Two weeks ago, there was a brief, bright moment in cinematic history in which Kobe Bryant had more Oscars than Gary Oldman. Another highlight of the night was the award for Best Documentary, a category in which four fantastic films were nominated. The winner, however, is a tale of conspiracy, corruption, and accidental insanity.
Bryan Fogel’s documentary “Icarus” begins innocuously enough. As an amateur cyclist, Fogel sets out to prove that illegal doping in amateur sports is much easier than most people expect. He intends to take illegal steroids and pass the drug testing before a big race, proving that if he could do it, anyone could.
This narrative from Fogel is motivated by the story of Lance Armstrong. Because the director himself is an amateur cyclist, the film focuses mainly on the proliferation of doping within the sport. But as time goes on, the film begins to have much wider implications.
With the help of a Russian scientist, Grigory Rodchenkov, Fogel begins his doping process and his training. For the next 45 minutes, viewers are taken on a ride along with him as he explores the taboo world of steroids. There is a lot of humor as well. At one point, Brian discovers that injecting into the thigh is causing him to bruise, so he instead has to start injecting into his rear. The resulting weeks he then spends on a bike seat are a good source of laughs for the audience.
Each step in the process is meticulously explained, but it all flies by quickly. The documentary moves extremely fast, and often smooths over complex concepts in a feverish pace. The reason for this, however, becomes apparent as the documentary moves forward.
In the middle of Fogel’s experiment, Rodchenkov suddenly resigns from his position in Russia. His lab is shut down, and an investigation is opened as to whether Russia’s athletes doped during the Olympics. Rodchenkov fears for his life, and Fogel is willing to help. With careful planning and deceit, Rodchenkov flees Russia and escapes to Fogel’s home in Colorado.
The rest of the film is an insane series of events as the audience witnesses testimony to widespread Russian corruption and subterfuge. The film shines a light on the illicit practices of the Russian athletic department, and accuses President Vladimir Putin of knowingly condoning such practices. Each trail of information leads to bigger and bigger surprises.
The documentary is astonishing. Each event leaves the viewer left without belief in what is in front of their own eyes. Fogel keeps things clear with research and easy-to-understand explanations. “Icarus” is deserving of its Academy Award.
The cinematography of the film captures the intensity of the situation, and the soundtrack the complexity. Fogel’s direction brings the movie along at an incredible pace. The gravity of what is on screen brings true weight to each camera shot, each interview. When looking for a documentary, look no further than “Icarus” on Netflix. It’s filmmakers are on par with other greats like Meryl Streep, Scorsese and Kobe.