Saturday, January 03, 2009

Movie Review: "Bigger, Stronger, Faster"

Starring Christopher Bell
Directed by Christopher Bell

Official Web site

Taking its cues from Michael Moore’s style of documentaries, yet less polarizing and confrontational, writer-director Christopher Bell’s “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” is an entertaining and educational examination of steroids in America. But in tackling such a controversial subject, Bell chooses to delve into the highly competitive nature of Americans and why some choose performance-enhancing drugs to “gain an edge.”

Bell doesn’t approach the material from a naive and outside point of view. In fact, he readily admits to having used anabolic steroids himself in the past, while involved in competitive weightlifting. As the middle child of three, Bell interviews his two brothers, who were also into weightlifting, athletics and steroids. And while Bell regrets his use of the drug, his brothers have no problem continuing to do so on occassion, as younger brother Mark remains involved in weighlifting, while older sibling Mike is still desperately trying to establish himself on the pro wrestling circuit.

All three grew up in the 1980s, idolizing pumped up stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Hulk Hogan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The fact that all his childhood heroes were seemingly on steroids is a true letdown for Bell, who questions that if they all used, what kind of mixed message does that send to today’s youth.

While the film isn’t able to get any of the aforementioned big three on camera for interviews, Bell is able to amusingly get close to Schwarzenegger during a campaign stop. But instead of being able to question the governor about performance-enhancing drugs, he gets to be a part of a photo-op that places him on the front page of the Los
Angeles Times.

As a first-time documentary maker, Bell shows an impressive amount of prowess with his varied and large amount of interview subjects. Ranging from medical experts, athletes (including track stars Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis), models and politicians, an extensive amount of information is thrown at the viewer. However, it’s to the film’s credit that it avoids getting bogged down into medical miniutae or an overly biased point of view. That’s not to say the film maintains a completely objective position. The mere involvement of Bell’s family, including his parents, makes his seeking answers a personal pursuit that goes beyond most documentaries.

While some may walk away still questioning the true health risks that anabolic steroids pose, the film makes clear that America takes a hypocritical position at times when it comes to dealing with the issue. Politicians put baseball players under oath in a congressional hearing for doping, but were among the many who cheered some of those same players’ exploits in their prime. The film points out that Congress spent more time on this hearing than they have on the Iraq war – and to what conclusion? Some of our sports athletes cheat? Shocking!

“Bigger, Stronger, Faster” doesn’t put the use of performance-enhancing drugs on trial, nor is that its intent. In fact, the film makes a point that the use of the term “performance-enhancing” is so overused, many likely don’t realize that they might be using some themselves. Stimulants (like caffeine), sedatives (beta blockers) and painkillers are all among them. So when it comes to competition in America, the documentary questions where we draw the line and what a level playing field even consists of anymore.

Grade: B+
(Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving drugs, language, some sexual content and violent images.)

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