Icarus (Fogel, 2017)

I am tickled that everyone on here had the same thought as I had when I started watching this: Super Size Me: Doping Edition. I was even confused as to whether this film was the right one. It starts off without broaching the Russian doping scandal at all, instead focusing on director Bryan Fogel trying to see if he can dope during a cycling competition and get away with it. There’s no telling what the framework of the doc would’ve been had he not met Grigory Rodchenkov—an exposé about doping in cycling? A how-to guide on how to dope without being found out? A vanity project for Fogel so that he can get his name and face out there? Hell if I know. The fact of the matter is, Fogel met Rodchenkov, who agreed to supervise Fogel’s doping regimen. The two became close. Rodchenkov visited Fogel in the US, and Fogel went to Moscow. A veritable bromance developed over injectable hormones and frozen urine.

Then the other shoe dropped.

If Rodchenkov’s name isn’t already familiar, let me enlighten you: he was once the director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, which was a merely a front to precipitate a state-sponsored doping program that had been running for decades. Hundreds of Russian athletes were able to dope in preparation for various Olympic Games under Rodchenkov’s supervision. While Fogel was filming this doc, Rodchenkov was forced to flee Russia when WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) began sniffing around in his affairs too much and eventually exposed his crimes. Once safe in the US, realising he had nothing left to lose, he opened up about his involvement, including how urine samples were elaborately switched during the Sochi Olympics. Because Fogel was already so close to him, we get all this testimony firsthand. It’s really quite thrilling.

Because the doc kicks into high gear when Rodchenkov enters the picture—and because Rodchenkov is such a fascinating subject—one is inclined to forgive Fogel for his false start of a beginning. He wisely defers to being a background character when the doc finds its footing, and at that point it really becomes fun. Very snappy and capital-I Important, with drama and circumstance at every turn. Its style does veer into being gaudily overblown at points, as Fogel simply can’t hide his excitement at having this bombshell on his doorstep. You can easily picture him bouncing off the walls during the editing phase, knowing how significant this film will be to the sports world at large. And he’s not wrong. He struck a goldmine when he met Rodchenkov. We’ve just seen the consequences in Pyeongchang, when Russian athletes could not compete under their flag. Of all the Oscar-nominated documentaries from last year, there is no doubt that Icarus lays claim to the title of Most Far-reaching.