Icarus initially starts out as a story that examines the effectiveness of the American anti-doping system with an amateur cyclist undergoing the same doping regiment as Lance Armstrong, under the tutelage of Grigory Rodchenkov- the former director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory. The documentary then morphs into an expose of a supposed Russian state-sponsored Olympic doping program, which some of the participants of the documentary speculate goes as far back as the late sixties.
Although the recent Academy Award-winning documentary is not aptly titled, mostly due to the first fifteen minutes being a neat and tidy, contemporary approximation of the character from Greek Mythology’s ill-fated flight: Icarus does prove to be an incredibly nimble piece of work.
Part of this is due to the malleable editing that presents montages at the breathless pace of a Tour de France race and revelations with such sobering urgency that one can feel the truth seeping out of the screen. A particularly chilling scene has Rodchenko’s high powered lawyer stating his fear of his client being taped, which he reasons will lead to his position being triangulated by Russian officials, ensuring that harm could come to him more than before.
While the central scandal is enough to cause the audience to pause in thought for its sheer mind-bogglingly implications, Icarus’s most profound moments come in its piecemeal moments of self-reflection. An early statistic of how much doping truly adds to a cyclist’s performance causes one to at least reconsider the utility of such a rigorous program.
And Rodchenkov’s obsession with the English novelist George Orwell allows the film to make its most salient points. In particular, he soberly acknowledges how he has been partaking in doublethink by facilitating countless numbers of athletes to win medals by doping while officially working for an anti-doping company.