Icarus written by Bryan Fogel and Jon Bertain and directed by Bryan Fogel (Netflix, Alex Productions, Chicago Media Project, Diamond Docs, TV-MA, 121 min)
Starring Bryan Fogel and Grigory Rodchenkov.
Let the Story Lead You
An old adage in writing is to let the story takes you where it takes you. When you write “hot” as Ray Bradbury famously states, the story leads you, not the other way around.
Such an approach makes the creative process exceedingly messy. Work operates in a non-linear fashion, one idea here, another idea there. Some ideas wither, a fragment unconnected like a comet hurtling through space.
Other ideas come out of nowhere, hijack the outline of what was to come, making the story something never intended.
A Documentary Hijacked
Icarus shows this maxim in action, when a documentary about a cyclist trying to beat the doping system transforms into a documentary about geopolitics.
Icarus begins with its documentarian exhibiting his curriculum vitae. An avid cyclist, he always dreamed of the Tour de France. When Lance Armstrong went on his run, he found a source of American inspiration for this global sport.
As high as the highs of the Lance Armstrong era were, the lowest of lows when Armstrong’s PED use surfaced are even worse.
While the outrage cycle denigrated the once-icon, Bryan Fogel had a different question in mind. Knowing the rigorous testing in place for the tour, Fogel wondered how Armstrong beat the system.
So, the original premise of Icarus forms. Fogel will try to mimic Armstrong and see if he can use steroids to beat the system, documenting the effects throughout.
When his nutritionist becomes concerned about his professional viability in assisting this illegal endeavor, he recommends an international colleague—a doctor and researcher from Russia.
Here Comes Russia
The head of the lab for the Russian Athletic Federation, Grigory Rodchenkov is in a position of power, and knows more than he probably should about how to game the system.
A few months in, Rodchenkov asks if Fogel has heard about his reputation. As it turns out, Rodchenkov represents a key spoke in a brewing international controversy around Russia and PEDs.
Out of nowhere sanctions are announced, and the “simple” documentary about PEDs in cycling becomes a record of an emerging geo-political scandal.
Quickly, Rodchenkov asks for a plane ticket to L.A., fearful for his life. And, soon after arriving, his fears find justification when a colleague dies of a “mysterious heart disease.”
With cameras rolling, Rodchenkov channels his inner Snowden and blows a whistle loud and clear. His story is explosive.
Danger in Geopolitics
From his view, Rodchenkov played a key role delivering on the orders from Putin to bring pride and glory to the Russian home land. During the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia planned an elaborate heist to provide clean urine to their dirty athletes, helping them game the system and giving them their best performance in their Olympic history.
With the truth out, Putin begins a purge and Rodchenkov goes into witness protection.
Given the current state of geopolitical affairs Icarus highlights a governing system where Putin touches everything. If his orders are clear for doping his athletes, surely, they are clear for more strategic geopolitical aims, like election meddling for instance.
Icarus was only supposed to be a documentary on doping in the cycling world, but sometimes you just gotta follow the muse and write hot, even if you’re too close to the sun.
Icarus is worthwhile viewing considering the current climate.
Verdict: 4 out of 5