Icarus: The Aftermath Film Review: Sequel to the Oscar-Winning Documentary

Five years ago, Bryan Fogel stumbled upon a story that would change his life and help transform the world of international athletics. “Icarus” began as Fogel’s attempt to document whether he could use illegal doping to improve his results as an amateur cyclist. But it all turned into something very different when the scientist he turned to for advice on how to avoid getting caught, Grigory Rodchenkov, turned out to be a key figure (and, with Fogel’s help, a whistleblower) in the sprawling TV show. Russian state-sponsored doping. Program.

“Icarus” won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and when it was released, Rodchenkov was in hiding in the US and Russia was under investigation by international anti-doping authorities that would bar the country from participating in the Winter Olympics in 2018 and subsequent Olympics (although the band would contain huge gaps).

But the story didn’t end there, and Fogel unveiled a sequel, “Icarus: The Aftermath,” on the opening day of the 2022 Telluride Film Festival. If the first “Icarus” occasionally felt like Fogel ran into a riveting subject but not capable of doing it cinematic justice, “Aftermath” is the work of a stronger and more confident director. It leaves behind jaw-dropping revelations about the extent of Russian doping and the lengths to which Vladimir Putin’s administration will go to silence dissidents and whistleblowers, but it’s also a deeply moving portrait of a man whose life was shattered because he grew tired of being part of a system that It worked on lies.

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“Where is Grigory Rodchenkov?” is a recurring question throughout “Aftermath,” and for much of the film neither we nor Fogel know the answer. He fled to the US with Fogel’s help, but the security team around him will not allow the filmmaker to contact him directly or learn his whereabouts, although they do allow a single cameraman, Jake Swantko, to embed himself. with Rodchenkov from time to time. five years while he constantly moved from one house to another.

“You have to assume that there is a team of Russians in the United States looking for him,” Rodchenkov’s lawyer says at the beginning of the film. And in the end, those suspicions have been confirmed by the FBI. Initially, much of the film is shot in the shadows, and composer Adam Peters’ music is an urgent pulse that makes everything feel eerie and dangerous.

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Fogel is allowed to communicate with Rodchenkov periodically, rarely in person, sometimes on video calls, and sometimes on links where Rodchenkov can see Fogel but Fogel cannot see Rodchenkov. But we can see it thanks to the embedded cameraman, and mostly what we see is a wizened, bearish middle-aged man strolling through nondescript apartments and mountain cabins wearing nothing but a pair of shorts (although he does put on a bulletproof vest when he goes out). ). outside). He is allowed to call his wife infrequently, and when he does, most of the conversation we hear is her berating him for destroying her family by confessing to Russian doping.

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“Did you ever wish you hadn’t talked to Bryan?” the cameraman asks at one point.

“The decision was made,” Rodchenkov replies flatly. “That is all.”

As the personal story unfolds, so does the international one. After initially insisting that Russia had never doped its athletes, the Putin administration went on to claim that Rodchenkov was a rogue agent who did it all himself and is now a traitor. The evidence clearly suggests otherwise, but the Olympic ban is essentially ineffective: it prohibits the Russian Olympic committee from being part of the games, but allows athletes to compete under the banner “Olympic athletes from Russia.”

“There was no ban,” says an international doping official. “Has no sense.”

Meanwhile, Rodchenkov tries to recover the annual diaries he has kept since 1973, which contain abundant real-time evidence of the Russian program. He has them secured somewhere in Moscow and a friend uses the FIFA World Cup in Russia as a cover to retrieve them, in a sequence that Rodchenkov says is “like James Bond style”.

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He drops more details of the Russian program along the way, and they’re downright crazy: he disguised a doping detector as a coffee bar in a boat at the 1988 Seoul Olympics… After competing, the athletes were told to pee their pants as fast as possible, then drink as many beers as they can to dilute their urine before they’re tested…

Steroids leave traces in the intestines that can be detected for years, but if you dissolve them in alcohol, you can swish the mixture around in your mouth and not be detectable, so Rodchenkov created what he called “duchess cocktails,” with the enhancement of performance. drugs mixed with whiskey for the male athletes and martinis for the female ones.

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On one level, “Icarus: The Aftermath” tells a harrowing familiar story: Russia gets caught, Russia denies, Russia is sanctioned, Russia appeals, sanctions are reduced, repeat as needed. But Fogel presents it in a way that is both dramatic and damning.

And apart from that macro story, you have this increasingly endearing troubled man who shrugs and packs his bags as he leaves another temporary residence. “My life,” says Rodchenkov in the helpful English he will have to use for the foreseeable future, “is still overwhelming and exciting.”

It’s also sad, with talk of plastic surgery and the witness protection program and the complete end of contact with her family. That’s the heart of “Aftermath,” and the movie is all the stronger for it: Despite all the shocking details about doping and espionage, it’s actually the story of a man whose life has been turned upside down by his decision. to speak There is some triumph here, some sadness and a lot of ambivalence. “You’ve changed my life,” Rodchenkov tells Fogel at one point, and then later in the film he changes that to “You’ve saved my life.” But these aftermaths are far from over, and the true nature of that change and salvation may well be revealed in the shadows as of now.

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