Icarus (2017) Film Review

Documentary is one of the most important genres of filmmaking. To find truth and discover the hiding of conspiracies is key to the genre. John Grierson, one of the pioneers of the genre, called documentaries the creative treatment of actualities.  The cinematic presentation of truth. Some would called that a paradox in itself but it still remains that documentaries are an important method of bringing the truth to the general public. Look at films such as Blackfish, Bowling For Columbine, Super Size Me and The Thin Blue Line. These documentaries tackled widely different topics but they impacted the world from new perspectives placed on the discussed topics. The presentation of truth has never been so crucial then in the current times of fake news, government cover ups and conspiracies. Icarus is a film that shows the importance of truth.

Icarus is about Bryan Fogel’s attempt to dope and win an amateur cycling race in Paris with the help of the director of Moscow’s Anti-doping laboratory, Dr Grigory Rodchenkov. This happens at the same time his lab is under investigation by the World Anti-Doping Association.  Icarus documents the investigation of state sponsored doping from Russia covering not just the olympics but all sports. The level of involvement from the state seems to be more then just knowledge of the program. Dr Rodchenkov escapes to the US for his own safety as he becomes a target from Russia.

The novel 1984 is constant theme throughout the film and Rodchenkov favourite book to read. The parallels of the novel to the Russian program are quite alarmingly similar. The old propaganda notion of Russia doping their athletes seem to be increasingly more accurate. Look at the fourth installment of Rocky with Ivan Drago taking supplements to create a superhuman full of power. Outlandish it may of seemed but the truth is that there was collusion between the state and the doping program. The full program of the state cheating to win at sports is horrifying to watch just because the public belief that these sort of things just happen in fiction. Rodchenkov quotes the Orwell novel, Ignorance is our strength, maybe this is true. If Rodchenkov was ignorant of the drugs program maybe he would not be living his life in fear.

As time moves on Icarus becomes even more relevant, the current attempted assassination of an ex spy, near where I live, in Salisbury, another case of Russia involvement. Whether it can be proved if it was Russia or not, it remains the case that we live in a world shrouded by darkness and deceit and films like Icarus are important in shedding light on these topics. The documentarians who risked their lives and sacrifice a tremendous amount to showcase the truth is a service that will always be underappreciated. Icarus is a fantastic and in-depth look into one of the biggest controversies in not just sport but international politics.

We get raw interviews with Rodchenkov himself, the friendship between Fogel and Rodchenkov is weirdly charming. Rodchenkov is a man that is a conflicted soul that is forever worried about the implications of his past and comforted by the simple pleasures in his present. One minute he is worried about the threat on his life, then he proceeds to play around with dogs. Rodchenkov is done with it all and it could be explored that he is regretful of his actions but proud of his accomplishments. He is a complex character that becomes central to the story. The title of Icarus is perfect as he flies close to the sun, forever in danger.

I sat watching this film in complete bewilderment. From all the fiction, strict western propaganda and image of Russia. One can take that with a pinch of salt. Russia is not full of communist invaders. It is a beautiful country but this doping program validates some of that propaganda of fear. I found out about this film because it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. I had not heard about this before that and that is a shame. This film is one of the most important documentaries in the past 10 years. It just raises more questions about how far does the corruption and lies go. Is it just Russia? Are we all living in ignorance? These are quite deep and reflective questions that are hinted at in this film. It is amazing that this film starting to be an expose on doping in cycling from the Lance Armstrong story. However it turned out to be a whistle blowing documentary of an event that has forever impacted the worldwide view on Russia and the hunt for any other conspiracies that could be true.

Conspiracy theories have been around since the dawn of imagination. 9/11 truthers, Flat Earthers, Fake Moon Landings, Holocaust deniers are some of the outlandish and wacky conspiracy theories. The whole idea of conspiracy is usually completely dispelled. I completely disagree with the previous conspiracies but what Icarus shows is that we should not dispel all conspiracies. We live our lives to work, get money and live well. The majority of us live in ignorance, sometimes for the better. Icarus is a key documentary in the genre because it shows the importance of truth. Some may claim to cheat a sports contest is futile and useless. However, what it does show is how far countries will go to gain power, money or popularity. We live in a clouded time and through the power of the people who want to find truth and light, I salute you; you are important. Icarus is a wonderful film that sheds light on this darkness. Powerful, moving and eye-opening. One of the greatest documentaries made post 9/11.


Rating – ★★★★★


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