Review of Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Review of Bigger, Stronger, Faster directed by Christopher Bell
Rating ****

This film is a well balanced look at steroid use. The writers frame the film around writer/director Chris Bell's own family. Two of his brothers use steroids. One who hopes to make it in professional wrestling and the other who competes in weight lifting competitions. The film looks at all sides of the issue from those who use steroids as a performance enhancement to those who use it for medical benefits.

I was surprised to learn how much my perception of steroid use has been shaped by overblown media coverage. I've always thought that steroids were a major health risk that could also lead to depression and mood swings such as "'roid rage." But when the filmmakers put up a series of statistics comparing steroid use with other societal problems such as alcohol and tobacco, steroids don't compare.

Still, there are problems associated with steroid use. There are side effects as with any drug. They are illegal without a prescription. And they do give an unfair advantage in competitions with athletes who do not use steroids.

The film uses a mixture of interviews, graphics, animation, and archival footage to weave an interesting story. The archival footage is especially put to good use. There are clips from movies by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both admitted steroid users. There are clips and interviews with professional athletes like Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis. The film covers the use of steroids in professional sports as well as the Olympics. But they also compare steroid use with other forms of performance enhancement. They use Tiger woods as an example. Tiger had laser eye surgery that improved his eyesight to 20/15. Does that give him an unfair advantage? The filmmakers interview professional musicians who use beta blockers to help control anxiety before a performance. They talk to accused steroid user Floyd Landis who denies using steroids but admits to sleeping in an altitude chamber, which changes his blood chemistry giving him better oxygen control. Is that cheating or is it just someone trying anything they can to improve their performance? The film also points out that taking steroids alone will not make someone a super athlete. It still takes training and skill to succeed.

One of the more interesting segments in the film was when Chris decided to go into the supplement business. He hired a couple of illegal immigrants off the street and, using off the shelf ingredients, made his own performance enhancement supplement. The pills he made cost him about $1.60 a bottle to make and could be sold for as much as $60 a bottle. And because they were supplements they were not subject to testing by the FDA. That's a whole other subject. To promote his new supplement, he hired models to pose for pictures that would be put on the label. The male model he hired happened to be a model used for other supplements. But when interviewed he admitted that his physic was mostly the result of steroid use and not the supplements he was touting.

The bottom line is that steroids should definitely be banned from professional sports. But the casual user should not be made to feel like a criminal any more than someone who has a few drinks after work. Everyone has their vices.

The DVD has a behind the scenes short but no audio commentary.

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