Monday, August 7, 2017

Icarus Netflix Documentary Review

Icarus (2017)
Watch Icarus on Netflix
Written by: Jon Bertain, Bryan Fogel, Mark Monroe, Timothy Rode (written by)
Directed by: Fabrice du Welz
Starring: Bryan Fogel, Grigory Rodchenkov, Nikita Kamaev
Rated: TV-MA

Bryan Fogel's documentary uncovers the truth about doping in sports, delving into the scandal among Russian Olympians.
Fogel, an amateur bike racer, decided to create a documentary about doping by doing it himself. Using a Russian doctor, he uncovers a state sponsored Olympic doping program.

The story gets much bigger than Fogel's original goal for this documentary, and that should change the introduction. The original premise is still included, but the focus is completely abandoned as this attempts to capture the Snowden effect. The premise is not what we get, and it should have been reframed to describe what this documentary became.
I want a documentary to reveal something new, this just provides background to the Russian doping scandal without any new revelations.
It depends.

Icarus is a character from Greek mythology whose hubris was his downfall. The movie is comparing Rodchenkov to Icacrus, though it doesn't outright state this. Rodchenkov, who is Russia's chief scientist in charge of catching athletes doping, whole heartedly helps Fogel not only dope but also avoid detection.

I wanted a big revelation from this. The fact the Russians are doping isn't new, that's public news. Their methods are rather simplistic too. I was expecting high level science to beat the tests, it's just a simple switcheroo with the person charged with catching dopers helping them cheat.

The starting point for the film is Lance Armstrong. Director Brian Fogel, an amateur cyclist, planned to replicate Armstrong's routine and measure his gains. If Fogel can dope and not get caught, anyone can. This doesn't try to answer whether doping helped athletes, we assume it does, but Fogel's own attempt at doping didn't help him, though there were complicating factors as his bike wasn't working correctly.
This didn't address the potential health effects, and I doubt that was something cut, because this doesn't seem to cut anything. Fogel is doing this for fun in essence, much like Morgan Spurlock sacrificed his health in Supersize Me more for attention than anything else.

The big surprise early on is that a Russian scientist will help Fogel dope after so many scientists have flatly refused. The Russian, Rodchenkov, works in Russia's Olympic lab testing athletes, the fact that he willingly participates triggers many red flags and Fogel openly admits that.

This becomes two different documentaries, Fogel's doping journey is quickly abandoned, and should have been excised almost completely to focus on Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov's story becomes Snowden-like, similar to Citizenfour (2014) (read my review). I wish the movie had stuck with Fogel's routine and actively measures his gains and overall health. This tries to juggle both to no effect. Using Rodchenkov to bolster Fogel's original premise could have been more intriguing.

People will always cheat, and no matter how many safeguards there are to catch cheaters, people will beat the system. Russia's scientists were testing their own athletes and despite the lab being accredited to catch doping, the lab was helping athletes cheat and avoid detection. Lance Armstrong was tested more than fifty times and was never caught. Was a lab helping him or was he using superior methods that couldn't be traced at the time? We don't know and that's where this documentary drops the ball.

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