IN 2012, one of the world’s most decorated and heroic sportsmen was exposed as a cheat and a liar.
The revelations of Lance Armstrong’s doping rocked not only cycling, but the very foundations of sport. Following this, films – like Stephen Frears’ The Program and Alex Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie – looked to shine a light on the cyclist’ deceit.
Netflix original Icarus picks up from the Armstrong controversy and, with a giant stroke of fortune, stumbles upon wider cheating and corruption at the highest levels of sport.
Icarus – available to stream on Netflix – begins in 2014 as filmmaker Bryan Fogel looks to undertake a daring doping experiment. With the help of anti-doping scientist Don Catlin, Fogel attempts to go through an Armstrong-like doping cycle, pass clean and then take part in the world’s toughest amateur cycling event – the Haute Route.
When Catlin pulls out of the experiment, Fogel is pointed in the direction of WADA President Grigory Rodchenkov. The Russian oversees Fogel’s doping process, which involves injections (to thigh and buttocks), a mountain of pills and regular peeing into bags.
The relationship between Rodchenkov and Fogel makes for amusing viewing. The two Skype like long-distance lovers and in between talking about doping hold up their dogs to the camera. Despite Rodchenkov’s expertise, the Haute Route experiment does not go to plan.
Had it not been for the significant events that followed, Fogel may have only had an enjoyable but rather forgettable 80 minute documentary on his hands. Instead, the Russian athletics doping controversy throws Rodchenkov into the middle of a contentious and potentially dangerous political storm.
With these events, Icarus shifts in tone and direction. The dogs and laughter disappear in place of serious matters of life and death. This includes allegations that go as far up as Russian President Vladimir Putin and put Rodchenkov under serious threat.
It does feel like two different films awkwardly spliced together. The opening half has a Super-Size Me (just trade McDonalds for performance enhancing drugs) lightness and charm that changes to a Requiem for the American Dream-like heavier study in the second half.
Regardless, the revelations of Fogel’s film will transcend much of its critic as entertainment.
Icarus is an important film even if the second half feels like a steep uphill climb. Worth climbing aboard for an hour and 20 minutes.
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