Directed By: Bryan Fogel
Starring: Bryan Fogel, Grigory Rodchenkov
Bryan Fogel didn’t set out to uncover a scandal that would rock the world of professional sport – it just sort of happened. His film ICARUS was first conceived as a personal investigation into the world of illegal doping in cycling (ala Lance Armstrong), which saw him take hormone injections in attempts to understand how athletes attempt to cheat the system. It was an interesting story before everything changed.
His investigation brought him to Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, then head of one of Russia’s leading anti-doping laboratories. He knew everything there was to know about cheating the system. He knew that in Russia, it wasn’t the exception – it was the rule. “We are playing the most dangerous game in the history of sport,” he says to Bryan, after the scandal breaks. Russia is not an enemy any country wants to have, let alone one single person.
Fogel’s film plays more like a thriller than a traditionally documentary, such is the fascinating story at its heart and the strength of Rodchenkov’s character. Fogel’s careful to portray him in sympathetic terms, as a pawn in the Russian government’s incredible game of chess, easy to dispose at any given moment. Whilst Rodchenkov is of course still accountable for his role, he takes on an almost Edward Snowden-quality (whom he references himself in the film) and given what he loses by speaking out against Russia, it’s difficult to not feel sorry for him. Two close friends of Grigory’s also involved in Russia’s systematic doping programme died in suspicious circumstances shortly after the news broke – throughout the film there’s a sense of dread as if at any moment Fogel will receive the news that Rodchenkov too has fallen.
Combining interviews, video footage, and animation, the film is a masterclass in documentary storytelling, compelling and informative without ever being too much to process. It raises questions for the audience whilst being a fascinating and accessible insight into a scandal that made global headlines and then seemed to quietly disappear. You find yourself asking “How was this allowed to happen, and why is no one talking about it anymore?” Even if you have no interest in sports, ICARUS transcends the topic, becoming a story about personal and political greed. Fascinating, important and masterfully constructed, it’s a film that shouldn’t be missed.