TV-14, but there be some language in this movie. Like, in subtitle form...but that's still language, yo. Some of it is just said in a heavy Russian accent, but that doesn't make it any way less the f-bomb. Heck, it might even make it more of an f-bomb. It might make it MORE of an f-bomb. Regardless, TV-14.
DIRECTOR: Bryan Fogel
I'm kind of a troll when it comes to sports. On the Catholic Movie Group I belong to, I called this my favorite sports movie. (I originally put Black Swan, which warranted a few confused reactions.) I've always wondered why people love sports so much. I know the standard answers, but it seems to make way more people miserable than it does happy. It, for some reason, has more power over societal choices than any other form of entertainment. Heck, the only reason that I even would watch this movie was that it is up for an Academy Award. But there is something remarkably telling about the value that society has placed upon a game. Unfortunately, it will never change. Also, I hope everyone enjoys the Super Bowl this Sunday. I'd watch, but I'm not a big bowling fan.
The craziest part of this documentary is that it kind of fell into Fogel's lap. It was supposed to be a very different documentary. I actually liked the idea of that doc as well, so I'm just amazed that there are two sports themed documentaries that I kind of like. (I also love Hoop Dreams, but that's a whole 'nother story.) For those who aren't in the know about this documentary is that it kind of started as Super Size Me for sports doping. Frustrated that there was such a gap between athletes who perform cleanly and those who had partaken in doping, the documentarian Bryan Fogel decided to see if he could take Lance Armstrong's regimen without getting caught before a massive biking event. In the course of this experiment, Fogel meets Grigory Rodchenkov, the man who was in charge of WADA during the Sochi Olympics. He helped Russian athletes pass what was supposed to be an impossible test to pass. All of this is reading as part of the documentary until Rodchenkov is outed for his participation in the doping scandal. This is where it becomes a much better documentary. I would have watched Super Size Me with drugs, but the documentary becomes an investigation about the obsession that Russia has with being the most successful country in the world with everything. Over the course of the movie, the focus shifts from "Can someone get away with doping?" to "Rodchenkov becomes a literal target for assassination by the Russians." Man, the Russians. Being Ukrainian, I've been watching a lot of documentaries on Putin and this one belongs up there. Yeah, the focus is on sports doping and that in itself is a pretty solid evil. But this doping documentary shows the kind of insanity that Vladimir Putin regularly subscribes to.
I want to be talking about the facts, but I also don't want to convince you not to watch this documentary because I reveal all of the major moments. It is always hard to talk about documentaries from a film perspective because there is an inherent temptation to talk about the content rather than the filmmaking process. Fogel really hasn't made that much outside of this, but he threw a lot of artistic chops into this film. The movie isn't a cheap looking film whatsoever. I can't say that I really respected the initial premise, but I will acknowledge that my hypocrisy tends to win out in these situations. It really seemed like stunt filmmaking, subjecting oneself to an insane illegal drug cocktail. I could also criticize him for being a guy who had a story kind of fall into his lap, but what I can't criticize him for is how he delivered on this very intense story. Fogel really researches the living daylights not only of Vladimir Putin, but he also gets to know his subject, Grigory Rodchenkov. Admittedly, he paints Rodchenkov is a very forgivable light, which is easy to do. Rodchenkov is the Russian friend we all want. He's funny and learned. He has a family and loves dogs. He has a bit of a Boris-and-Natasha accent, but is completely fluent in English and grammar, with an occasional adorable misstep from time to time. He also has an extremely tragic past, which explains his involvement in the doping scandals that he orchestrated. By the end of the movie, Rodchenkov becomes the good guy, but there is also that horrible itch that you know that he did what Russia asked him to do for a long time. There doesn't seem to be a degree of remorse for what he did. At one point, Fogel goes before the Olympic committee and one of the members asks for Rodchenkov's apology because she is appalled by Rodchenkov's crimes. This is an interesting moment because Fogel kind of puts the committee member in her place, accurately-but-that's-only-part-of-the-story stating that Rodchenkov is putting his own life on the line revealing his part in the whole ordeal. Rodchenkov is the most interesting part of this documentary, but he doesn't seem morally turned inside out about the past. Rather, he is a man worried about his own life and that kind of makes sense.
The movie looks beautiful. Considering that the tone of the movie changes about thirty minutes into it, Fogel adapts the look of his film to match the content of the film. The movie is edited using a great visual style that feels like CNN produced this documentary. The color scheme of the info graphics is haunting and informational. There is a lot of abstract ideas here that could have been lost without the visual element that Fogel and his team create. I know that John Oliver has talked about the Russian doping scandal in the past and he blew my mind with a lot of this stuff. Fogel kind of goes beyond that with showing the step-by-step of how each thing happened. By the end, I felt like an expert on how to trick any government into swapping pee with me. Similarly, Fogel uses a different visual element to tell Rochenkov's story. Using monochromatic and stylized art, Fogel tells Rodchenkov's narrative about his time in a mental institution. As part of the theme, Fogel stresses Rodchenkov's favorite book, 1984, to stress the parallels of working under Russian supervision. While perhaps heavy handed at times, the 1984 structure of the film is extremely effective. I also can't say that I hate when a movie stresses the value of literature and how it affects the common man. If I was directing this movie, I would have been terrified that there are just too many elements to the film. I would normally call this movie jumbled, but the disparate pieces somehow really seem to mesh in a way that works. There's so much going on with this doc and I think that Fogel really sticks the landing. Yeah, I like crapping on sports, but this movie takes the relationship of sports and makes you think instead of preaching at you. I get the vibe that Fogel still is really big into athletics, but is also aware of the evils happening in the background. As a fundamental zealot against sports (I will not rest until they are destroyed!), I dug this as an I-told-you-so, but I also acknowledge that the movie has merit on its own.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.