Icarus *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Bryan Fogel.
Written by: Bryan Fogel & Jon Bertain & Mark Monroe & Timothy Rode.
The documentary Fogel wanted to make isn’t really all that interesting – it’s essentially a version of Morgan Spurlock’s Super-Size Me, but for steroids, but I’m not sure what it would have proved even if it did work. After all, we all know what these PEDs do – they help the athletes – and we all know that athletes have been getting away with them for years, because they’re always one (or more) steps ahead of those trying to catch them (which is why when we hear of someone testing positive now, it’s often for years ago, as advances in testing have caught up with what athletes were doing). Doing it to himself is the hook, but not a particularly good one – especially since Fogel didn’t actually do any better (he did worse) on drugs as off of them.
But the documentary he did make, about Rodchenkov, is fascinating and tense. This is a documentarian’s dream – to have a better film than the one you want to make fall into your lap. Rodchenkov trusts Fogel, in part because who else does he know in America? When the investigation starts getting closer to him, their conversations over Skype grow tenser and short – and Rodchenkov will eventually flee Russia in order to try and keep himself safe. Others he knew, and we involved in the same scandal, mysteriously wind up dead (that happens a lot in Russia to people the government doesn’t like), and he fears for his life. Eventually, he will reveal the elaborate methods Russia went through not to be caught – especially at their home Olympics in Sochi, where Russian did way better than at the previous Winter Games. The movie morphs almost into a spy thriller – or at the very least, something more like Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour or Risk, than how things started.
There are certainly complains you could make about Icarus – it does run too long (at just over two hours), and Fogel does seem too eager to be at the center of the film, even as it becomes clear he should step aside and let Rodchenkov have center stage all to himself. In particular, that first section of the film – the film that Fogel wanted this to be – is way too long for what we get out of it. And, truth be told, all this information is already out there, so if you followed along, I’m not sure how much new information there actually is here. But overall, Icarus is a fascinating film – another chapter in the seemingly ever expanding series about doping in sports – a scandal that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.