A great character can make a movie or a television series. One character who instantly comes to mind is Michael Scott, who enhanced the excellent American series “The Office.”
Grigory Rodchenkov, the doctor who supplied the majority of the Russian Olympic team with steroids during the 2014 Olympics, is that man who makes the transcendent documentary film “Icarus.”
While watching the film “Icarus,” I felt an array of emotions: curious because of the storyline; irked due to the cheating Rodchenkov accomplished; and sad while learning about his story and the life he must live now. All of these emotions are due to Rodchenkov.
Rodchenkov is a flawed man but a man who many will love at the end of the film. It is hard to look past Rodchenkov’s faults, such as supplying steroids which swung Russia 33 medals in Sochi during the 2014 Olympics, making Russia the country that won the most medals. But even though I try to hate him for what he did, I cannot.
Bryan Fogel’s original premise for the film was about himself. He took steroids to enhance his amateur cycling abilities during the biggest amateur cycling race in the world. However, this all changed when he met Rodchenkov a few months before the race. Fogel planned to take steroids to enhance his ability to place higher and reach the second tier of the competition. Every day, he would take HGH through a needle placed in his thigh, twice a day for months.
Fogel sought help from many international experts, but one man returned his calls: Grigory Rodchenkov, a Russian doctor who oversaw drug testing in the state of the art lab in Moscow. Rodchenkov drew up the doping regime and admitted that with his plan there was no chance that Fogel could fail a drug test. Rodchenkov voyaged to Los Angeles and smuggled Fogel’s urine so that he can take it back to Moscow and examine it.
Rodchenkov was the mastermind behind Fogel’s plan, but what nobody outside of the inner circle knew that he was also the man who engineered a revolutionary doping program that gave the Russians a competitive advantage at the Olympics in Sochi.
Months into Fogel’s experiment, a German documentary regarding the doping scandal in Russia was released. The film focused on a few key witnesses who all had a direct relationship with Rodchenkov. They profusely claimed that he was the man behind the doping program, which won Russia 13 gold medals in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Simultaneously, Fogel got full access to Rodchenkov, and the viewers experience the dramatic events that forced Rodchenkov to escape. He mentions multiple times in the film that his life may be in danger, and he feels that he must flee Moscow.
On camera, Fogel does not get Rodchenkov to admit said doping crimes, but it becomes apparent due to his resignation. The documentary once focused on Fogel’s doping has pivoted into the investigation on Russian athletes doping and the efforts he makes to get Rodchenkov out of Moscow into a secure location where he could tell his story. With breathtaking access to the culprit, Fogel and the audience have a direct view of what occurred and the weight that it carried across the world.
Because of the chaos in Russia, Rodchenkov feared his life and fled to Los Angeles so that he could live with Fogel. Rodchenkov escaped his “security guards” whom he thought were going to kill him.
While staying in LA, Rodchenkov got a subpoena to testify in at a grand jury in New York. There, Rodchenkov told the elaborate scheme that he and his bosses, including President Vladimir Putin, came up with to not get caught, along with that the majority of the Russian Olympic team has been doping since the 1950s without being detected. He told the whole story to the New York Times, which set off a storm in Russia and practically the entire world.
Rodchenkov was forced to go into the witness protection program so that the Russian government could no try to harm him. According to a recent “60 Minutes” story that aired on February 11th, Russian officials are trying to find Rodchenkov and do harm to him.
The groundbreaking film “Icarus” tells the behind the scenes story of what is the New York Times article brought to picture with unparalleled access.
On paper, Rodchenkov seems like a horrible man, but as Fogel dove into the story, his perception changes from a cheat to a man who was following orders from above. Fogel gets the viewers to sympathize with the man who gave Russian athletes steroids for them to cheat, leading to an apparent athletic advantage.
The great film falls into the trap of trying to make Rodchenkov the victim, but as viewers will watch it, it will instantly jump out how hard it is to hate the man. His kindness immediately connects with the viewer.
In the end, Rodchenkov is the man who elevated the film. His storytelling, along with Fogel’s filmmaking ended up with them taking home the Academy Award for best documentary on March 4th.
The story takes viewers on a journey of learning, understanding, and acceptance, which allows us the viewer to sympathize with a man we want to dislike. Dr. Rodchenkov does not have the “Hollywood” ending. He currently is in hiding, trying to avoid that the Russian Federation, and all the evil they hash out. Rodchenkov is not just a cheat; he is the man who exposed this fault in the system and risked his life trying.
Our Grade: A-
Length: 121 minutes
Genre: Documentary, Sports, Thriller
Directed by: Bryan Fogel
Starring: Grigory Rodchenkov, Bryan Fogel