2018 Oscars Challenge: [9] “Icarus” – Best Documentary Feature

“ICARUS”
Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan


tag_bestdocumentaryfeature


Director: Bryan Fogel
Producers: Dan Cogan, Bryan Fogel, David Fialkow, and Jim Swartz
Writers: Bryan Fogel & Mark Monroe
Cinematography: Jake Swantko & Timothy Rode
Distributor: Netflix
Release Date: January 20, 2017 (Sundance)
Run-time: 121 minutes


FILM SYNOPSIS: Intending to prove that sports doping testing can be rigged, amateur bicyclist Bryan Fogel contacts Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of the anti-doping laboratory that tests Russian Olympians. As Fogel tries to beat the tests, he becomes closer with Rodchenkov and uncovers the biggest scandal in modern sports history, thereby exposing both of them to physical and legal danger.


With the 2018 Winter Olympics just around the corner, “Icarus” is a smartly timed documentary about the world of anti-doping in global sports, including the Olympics. To avoid athletes using performance-enhancing drugs, committees like WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) have been formed to make sure all countries are compliant. But with celebrity athletes like Lance Armstrong publicly revealing they’ve been taking the drugs, lying about it, and somehow passing the tests, it has to be abundantly obvious that there is something wrong in the system.

“Icarus” starts off with a professional cyclist, Bryan Fogel, wanting to start a doping program that he can use to still pass drug tests and still compete in major races. He is connected with Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of the anti-doping laboratory that tests Russian Olympians, who, through FaceTime/Skype helps him to get the drugs, take them, and keep records of through urine samples. This correspondence takes off just as Russia gets outed for not being compliant to the WADA rules and an investigation begins, leading Rodchenkov to flee Russia and come to stay with Fogel. The end result is that Russia is revealed to have been involved in a conspiracy that leads all the way to the leader Putin himself, although the Russians are still allowed to compete. It is revealed that somewhere around 80% of Olympic athletes were doping and getting away with.

This is all very interesting and, trust me, I will not be able to watch the Olympics that involve Russians ever the same. But on a pure cinematic level, “Icarus” feels far over produced. How is that possible? For one, it seems crazy to me that Fogel just happens to start a relationship with a doctor that ends up being heavily involved in this conspiracy. What are the chances that the cameras were rolling way before this began to unravel and they just happened to be there when this all came to fruition? It’s possible, but the way it’s presented on camera feels very fake and very forced. I believe the situations are real, but I feel like there had to have been some inkling of what this documentary was eventually going to turn into. The film itself is presented in a very confusing way, as well. I was never quite sure what exactly was happening. Was Fogel trying to uncover doping in athletics or was he, in all honesty, just trying to get ahead the same way Lance Armstrong was getting ahead? Why would Fogel be Rodchenkov’s only U.S. resource when he knew plenty of other people in the States, probably much better than Fogel. Down to some of the conversations that people have feel forced and fake. And the editing of the film did not help in making things less confusing.

As far as I am always concerned in this category, I look for the documentary that either pushes me to feel something or shows the viewer something they could never possibly see anywhere else. “Blackfish” and “The Cove” are examples of documentaries that pushed me to feel something and evoked a strong emotional response. “The Cove” even was nominated and won the Academy Award in its year. “Restrepo” and “Citizenfour” are documentaries that take you into a world that normal people never get to witness. They show you behind a particular current that general audiences simply never venture. “Icarus” does take you behind the current of this particular subject and in almost the highest regard, seeing one of the doctor’s specifically involved in the doping and cover up. It also makes you feel something, a disgust for Russia, which will carry over into my viewing of the Olympics this year. But I do feel that there are other documentaries that have made me feel more, for example, “Last Men In Aleppo” had me in tears and is the emotional front-runner in my opinion. Overall, it could have a good chance, checking both of my boxes, but still, something felt off and detached about this film. It did not feel like it had stakes despite the film-makers presenting obvious stakes. Having not seen it yet, “Faces Places” is still the front-runner in most people’s opinions. But “Last Men In Aleppo” is my favorite thus far.


BRYAN FOGEL
NONE
DAN COGAN
NONE



NETFLIX

VIEWED: Monday
January 29th, 2018

35

35

Films Left Days Left

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