THE STORYWhen Bryan Fogel 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.
THE CAST – Bryan Fogel, Nikita Kamaev & Grigory Rodchenkov
THE TEAM – Bryan Fogel (Director/Writer), Jon Bertain, Mark Monroe & Timothy Rode (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 121 Minutes
By Tommy B.
“Icarus” is peak documentary storytelling, a film that sustains all the surprise and drama of thrilling fiction and a work that raises questions about the ethical obligations of a documentarian. Much like “S-Town,” the podcast that swept the nation earlier this year, “Icarus” finds its documentarian entangled in a difficult situation when his relationship with the documentary subject takes a hard left turn. The shifting stakes and events depicted here elevate what would have been an interesting examination of doping in professional sports into something far more consequential.
At the start of “Icarus,” filmmaker Bryan Fogel is the primary focus. As a competitive cyclist looking to expose the weaknesses of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Fogel teams up with a Russian scientist named Grigory Rodchenkov, who oversaw the official drug testing laboratory in Moscow for Russian Olympic athletes. Fogel and Rodchenkov, as well as a team of sports physiologists and other experts in the field, planned to concoct a regimen of intentional doping that would fly under the radar of WADA officials and, in turn, propel Fogel to new athletic heights. For weeks, Fogel regularly injected himself with performance-enhancing drugs and learned the ins and outs of cheating urine tests, all under the guidance of Rodchenkov.
The two men were well on their way to demonstrating the inability of WADA to prevent fraudulent drug test results. And then all hell broke loose. Fogel discovered the extent of Rodchenkov’s involvement in state-sponsored deception, and his subsequent role in a whirlwind of investigation, death threats, and overall upheaval. Fogel’s relationship with Rodchenkov placed the documentarian in the midst of the craziness, even placing him as a person of interest in far-reaching political and judicial inquiries. The specifics of the twists in “Icarus” are now omnipresent in articles about the movie, but if possible, one should watch “Icarus” with a minimum of advance knowledge about the events involving Rodchenkov and Fogel. As a filmmaker, Fogel has a flair for the dramatic, and he unveils the stunning developments with a gradual buildup of tension. This approach provides “Icarus” with breathless suspense, though the strength of impact of the film’s narrative progression may depend on your level of awareness about the events being chronicled. However, “Icarus” also derives its magnetism from the force of Rodchenkov’s personality. Rodchenkov vacillates between moments of thoughtful reflection, enigmatic reticence, larger-than- life charisma, and endearing eccentricity. By the time “Icarus” makes clear the seriousness of Rodchenkov’s situation, it has already succeeded in pulling the viewer into his orbit. “Icarus” provokes a contemplation on the role of the documentary filmmaker, specifically when his collaboration with his subject produces unexpected, life threatening consequences.
Fogel includes numerous scenes in which he, his producer, and Rodchenkov engage in meetings in-person and over Skype with lawyers, WADA officials, investigators, and journalists to determine an appropriate course of action for how to proceed. These scenes are among the movie’s most electrifying moments because they show the artist with a truly personal stake in his art. Just as Brian Reed’s relationship with John B. McLemore in “S-Town” escalated his personal attachment to the fate of the people that he was documenting, Fogel’s relationship with Rodchenkov turns him into an active participant in the effort to secure Rodchenkov’s safety. At first glance, “Icarus” appears to be made for a niche audience, but it has enough empathy and complexity to attract a gamut of audiences. This is one of the best and most unique movies of the year. Bryan Fogel has created a pulse-quickening real-life thriller that is at once relevant and personal.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Suspenseful, surprising, relevant, complex and personally felt.
THE BAD – The strength of the film’s narrative may be lost on those whoa re not entirely familiar with the subject material.
THE FINAL SCORE – 9/10