2008 // USA // Chris Bell // July 3, 2008 // Theatrical Print
B - Perhaps I wouldn't be so impressed with Chris Bell's documentary about steroid use in America if I hadn't been mistaken about what I was getting into. I expected something akin to a television magazine exposé ("Americans use steroids! Oh noes!"), albeit served up in a wry, punchy package. Instead, Bigger, Stronger, Faster* is a genuinely stunning feature documentary debut. Bell doesn't demonstrate a particularly cinematic sensibility, but he boasts an amazing ability to find the right tone and deftly juggle a deceptively complex controversy. Admittedly, his style owes something to the Moore-Spurlock school of gee-whiz credulity. He asks the occasional sharp question, but mostly nods along while athletes, doctors, advocates, and family members offer their expertise and pour their hearts out. However, his narration absolutely nails a young American male's strange blend of confusion and cynicism about steroids. Bell takes an empathic and deeply personal approach to the material, looking at it from every angle, never satisfied with conventional wisdom or easy answers. For this reason, BSF* is profoundly satisfying. If Bell can maintain his balance of pithy insight and authentic middle class hope, he might someday unseat Michael Moore as America's marquee Big Issues documentarian.