Golden Rule: “Icarus” Goes for Gold as a Sports Doc Turned Political Thriller

Leading up to the 90th Academy Awards on March 4th, we’re going to be diving into as many of the nominated films as possible and taking a look at what their chances are for taking home the Oscar. You can check out our list of where to watch each film here and see the full list of nominees here. Today we’re continuing things with a look into “Icarus,” which is nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film.

“Icarus” starts off as the story of director Bryan Fogel trying to understand doping in sports. As someone who spent years as an amateur cyclist, he was taken aback by the announcement that Lance Armstrong had been doping for years. His goal was to see if he could use performance-enhancing drugs and somehow beat the same drug tests Armstrong did while he took part in amateur races. He first seeks out the help of Don Catlin, the founder of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory. But despite Catlin’s interest in what Fogel was doing, he felt he couldn’t partake and sustain his reputation. Catlin leads him to Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory.

Rodchenkov begins to help Fogel with his mission, and as they work on this project, the World Anti Doping Agency begins investigating claims of Russia partaking in a state-sponsored doping program. The film then takes a turn from basic sports documentary to pseudo political thriller as the details of the investigation and the fallout change the life of Rodchenkov, his colleagues, his family, and his friends. It’s a story that’s about more than sports, and doping; it’s a story about how far one country will go to make sure they look good. And in the end, no one comes out completely clean.

Fogel & Rodchenkov

“Icarus” is something I never thought I’d see in a documentary. It becomes an edge- of-your-seat thriller halfway through where the consequences are life and death. There are plenty of aspects of this story that could easily be found out through a Google search or may be remembered from headlines of years past. But to see it unfold, to see how this all really happened is remarkable. On top of that, the fact that this even unfolds the way it did is remarkable. There’s so much that comes out simply because this film was made. Lives are saved because this film was made. And it shows how far Russia and Vladimir Putin are willing to go to maintain a certain sort of image, which is incredibly timely right now.

“Icarus” in some ways is the flashy, “sexy” option for the documentary category because Russia is a hot topic right now, especially the idea of how far Russia is willing to go to get what they want. So “Icarus” stands a good chance a taking home the Oscar. That being said, there are still some really great documentaries nominated this year and it’s hard to pick a clear frontrunner.

For now you can check out “Icarus” on Netflix and be sure to keep following Poor Man’s Spoiler for all of our Oscar coverage. The Oscars Air on ABC on March 4th at 8pm ET.

Icarus Poster

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