Documentarian Chris Bell is not the kind of guy you’d expect to see in front of a camera conducting interviews. He’s considerably well-built but relatively short. He’s not deceptively disguised as a schlub like Michael Moore or impressively charming like many television personalities. He doesn’t even have a memorable mustache like Morgan Spurlock. But what he does have – and this serves him better than any act he could cook up – is a genuine honesty and curiousity about the subject he’s investigating. And in Bigger, Stronger, Faster (his first doc), that subject is steroids. 

Rather than hindering him, Bell’s proximity to the subject matter makes him an appropriate guide through the world of steroids. Beginning the film with a clear destation of the drug (he admits to seeing them as cheating and unhealthy, besides), Bell goes through the history of his family and the hero-worship he and his brothers lavished upon such icons as Hulk Hogan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Bell’s aversion to steroids is quick to be tested when he begins his interviews, discovering that the dark underbelly of the performance enhancing drugs might not be as dark as some might assume. What makes Bell’s interviews most compelling is that regardless of who he’s talking to, he’s prepared to play devil’s advocate. When talking to a father who began to wage battle against steroids after his son committed suicide while getting off steroids, Bell asks if it would be appropriate for the father to mention that his son was also on anti-depressants. But when talking to those who claim that the side-effects of steroids have been overplayed in the media, Bell is quick to begin naming people who have supposedly died from their use.

It’s Bell’s innate ability to cut through the bullsh*t (and he does so quite literally when examining a new breed of genetically enhanced bull) that really sells the storyline he’s laid out here. At times his clear and informative narrative takes a side route as we find out more about his family and the habits of his two brothers, but these are still moving sidebars in an otherwise nearly flawless documentary. In a time when it seems that every schmoe with a camera thinks they can go out and make a documentary, it’s nice to see someone actually take the time to do it right. Bell gets all the right interviews, hits all the right notes, and gives the audience more information than opinion. Looking at the build on G.I.Joe dolls from the ’60s compared to action figures today is enough of a giveaway to the obsession of strength we seem to have become accustomed to. Whether you’re interested in steroids or not, this is an American film made for an American audience.

Zach’s Rating: A-
Perfect For: Anyone looking for a good documentary amid the recent glut
Stay Away if: You’re looking for an easy, one-sided doc

To purchase Bigger, Stronger, Faster (on DVD Sept. 30th), visit Amazon
To see Bigger, Stronger, Faster in theatres, check your local listings, or visit the film’s homepage

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