Running Time: 121 minutes
Directed by: Bryan Fogel
Featuring: Bryan Fogel
Tagline: “Truth is the new banned substance.”
Since the advent of reality television there have been more documentaries made about people’s lives than ever before, but it was not until the 2004 documentary “Super Size Me” (2004) directed by Morgan Spurlock that we really saw what a documentary could be when the director/writer and the subject were the same person. Spurlock’s ‘experiment’ in eating only fast food from McDonalds was a curio; it remains so to this day, as it ultimately proved very little, although it did give Spurlock a career, which he is still cashing in on to this very today. This is important in terms of “Icarus” (2017) as the writer/director ,as well as subject, Bryan Fogel, started out with a certain intention but along the way world events overtook his concept so that the fundamental nature of his documentary changed. This change means that an interesting story about performance enhancing drugs in sports, was altered so that his story became something earth shattering in its reach, something very few films are able to authentically claim.
“Icarus” is based around filmmaker Bryan Fogel who sets out to uncover the truth about doping in sports, a chance meeting with a Russian scientist transforms his story from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller involving dirty urine, unexplained death and Olympic Gold-exposing the biggest scandal in sports history.
I had been looking forward to this film since first hearing an interview with writer/director Bryan Fogel about the journey that he went on before, as well as during the making of this documentary. Fogel as it turned out had a fairly successful career after co-writing the off Broadway play ‘Jewtopia’, which was one of the longest running as well as most successful off Broadway plays ever produced. After that success he had a crack at directing a film version of his play, which failed to light up the box office or even get noticed by critics. This left Fogel in limbo, after some should searching as well as all the negative press about Lance Armstrong he decided to see if the world of cycling as well as performance enhancing drugs had changed in the wake of that superstars downfall.
I will not go into the facts of the documentary but it does start off with Fogel racing in a top amateur race where he is ‘clean’, before he has taken any performance enhancing drugs (PED) – from there he commits to taking many PED’s along with monitoring his urine for the markers that indicate he is actually taking these drugs. From here he is introduced to Russian drug expert Grigory Rodchenkov, it is here where the movie Fogel wanted to make goes off the rails, into territory he would not have thought possible – again keeping this spoiler free I will say that the truth he uncovers and is exposed to is so much stranger than fiction.
This is a long documentary at a tad over two hours; mainly because of the twist in the story that Fogel is trying to tell, as well as the depth of the subject matter that it touches. During the last two thirds of the film we see how the Russian doping regime touches not only the summer and Winter Olympics, but also the way in which Russian politics as well as politicians are involved in the State sponsored cheating. We are also exposed to the inner workings of how World Anti-Doping Agency conducted tests, as well as how these tests were negated by the Russian FSB (the equivalent of the KGB) in stealing the tests and replacing them so that their athletes tested clean – believe me this is just the surface to this excellent documentary.
This year has seen some real highs in terms of cinema, but has had some absolute lows as well, no studio has remained untouched by some subpar films, not only that but the year on year box office has been down as well – this year overall has been a disappointment. Sometimes though surprises come from the most unexpected places, “Icarus” is one of those surprises. Overall any kind of cinema that uses sports as its subject are normally straight forward, full of tropes that normally lead to some kind of person or team overcoming an obstacle. In the case of “Icarus” this was going to be some kind of proving that the aftermath of the Lance Armstrong scandal had changed little. But what we end up with is something far more interesting as well as a document that is extremely complex – there lies the greatness of “Icarus”.
For me this is the movie of the year, it hints at greatness as well as showing sports people in a mirror that is definitely not flattering. Not only that, it also illustrates quite clearly that politics and sports are intertwined in a way that has not been seen since the Cold War, or the tragedy that took place in Munich in 1972. The difference being that there is no real way to discriminate against a sport without discriminating against a county, as well as the money and prestige that now accompany any global sporting event – you just need to see the outcome of this movie to realize some egos are bigger than sports or politics.
“Icarus” is streaming on Netflix right now.