Film Reviews

Review: ‘I am Bolt’

Doc invites us to empathise with the runner’s journey 9.7 seconds at a time. 

Courtesy Universal Pictures Home Entertainment


I Am Bolt
(UK, 107 min.)
Dir. Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner

“The fastest man in the world.” The very notion seems preposterous, a mix of hyperbole and braggadocio, almost a schoolyard taunt. The designation has served well for those few that have made the 100m dash their sport. Since the time of the Olympians, and surely farther back than that, the simple measure—I can outrun you from here to there–has been fundamental to our innate sense of competition. Over the last century, racing records fell due to modern training and nutrition, and in illegal instances, due to augmentation of pharmaceuticals that could boost stamina and recovery time. In a highly scrutinised sport, legends continue to be born; new racers seek out new records while old barriers are burst through.

Few have done it as charismatically, as convincingly, as Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. His achievements are legendary – nine Golds over the past three Olympics – a feat that many feel will never be repeated. The film, I Am Bolt, certainly takes it as given that these accomplishments will prove to be lasting ones. A loose and casual bio piece, the film shows Bolt’s training regime as he takes on the challenge of his third Olympics at Rio in 2016. If Bolt epitomizes the human desire to go faster than the one beside on you, it’s refreshing that he battles the similarly fundamental wish to work less, kick back and relax.

Bolt’s return to the Olympics is motivated by trash talking by a once-disgraced American sprinter, but surely the real drive came from the fact that he believed he could do it. The film does its best to provide a modicum of suspense even though we know how it all worked out, but for the most part, it’s a series of interviews and intimate selfies showing the boredom and repetition of Bolt’s training regime.

Sustained achievement at Bolt’s level is hard to understand, so hearing from the likes of equally an impressive Serena Williams is a nice touch, considering her aptitude on the tennis court. It helps contextualise a rarified issue – when you’re in the lead, just who do you chase? At that point you’re simply racing for yourself, and while this might feel like a pat sports metaphor, it’s drawn out eloquently, providing genuine insight into what could possible keep someone at the top of their game reaching for further victories.

We’re treated to grainy video footage of the young Bolt at his first events, looking ungainly, standing against his more compact competitors. Some time is spent on his losses and injuries, that bumpy-road-to-success journey that’s also surely universal.

What saves the film from being a mere commercial for Bolt’s global entourage to enjoy are the tiny moments of unguarded intimacy: the snap of a coach at his laziness, or the sight of Bolt wheeling about in an empty hotel room looking out of sorts.

In contrast to sport doc masterpieces like When We Were Kings, this film lacks a critical stance. As a collection of Bolt’s truly memorable moments on the Olympic stage, it is, however, a fine reminder of the limits of human capabilities while at the same time giving insight (inspirational or not) about what makes the world’s best runner tick.

As per the title, what’s clear about I Am Bolt is that we’re not Bolt, not in a position to understand what it’s like to have the physical gifts and mental determination to ever do what he has done. That doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate along, joining his infectious smile with one of our own as he makes his way across the line. Just as we can empathise with his accomplishments, we can empathise with his journey, 9.7 seconds at a time.

*_I Am Bolt_ is now available on home video.*