'I Am Bolt': Film Review

I am Bolt Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Almost as engaging as the man himself.

Olympic megastar sprinter Usain Bolt gets his close-up in this dynamic documentary.

Athletic achievements don’t get much more unbeatable than the records held by Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, who’s won nine consecutive Olympic gold medals and even more World Championship awards. Considered the fastest sprinter who’s ever logged track time, Bolt is a hero to millions and admired on a level comparable to global sports legends like Muhammad Ali and Pele. I Am Bolt presents a dynamic, consistently engaging portrait of the mediagenic track star, and even if it’s sometimes too laudatory, there are also many moments of heartfelt sentiment throughout the film, which should thrill his legions of fans following release in theaters worldwide.

Like any other athlete, his career had to start somewhere and for Bolt it all began with running track at his rural high school. The sprinter jokes that he started competing so he could win free lunches from fellow runner and best friend Nugent “NJ” Walker, now his manager (and a producer on the film). After garnering his first gold medal for the 200-meters at the 2002 World Junior Championships at the age of 15, Bolt began training full time, eventually earning a spot on the Jamaican national team.

Qualifying for world and regional competitions became routine for Bolt after he went pro in 2004, but he had to train hard and prove both his ability and competitive spirit before earning a spot on the Jamaican Olympic team for the 2008 Beijing summer games, where he grabbed gold for both the 100- and 200-meter races, as well as for his spot on the 100-meter relay team. World championship awards followed before Bolt returned to the Olympics four years later in London, where he repeated his medaling feat, as he did for an unprecedented third time at the Rio games this summer. Throughout his career, he’s also set repeated world records in the 100- and 200-meter events.

Both in competition and on the sidelines, Bolt has proven himself an outsized personality, with a boundless sense of fun (he’s a notorious practical joker) and seemingly unlimited enthusiasm for his fans. The film makes clear, however, that establishing his career has required a level of dedication that he hasn’t always been willing to commit, until his Olympics success put him on the path to enduring fame, intensifying his competitiveness. “I take it personally when I lose,” he comments. “I don’t want to lose at any point in my life.”

Bolt has also had to contend with repeated setbacks from leg injuries, which have occasionally kept him out of competition. But longtime coach Glen Mills always seems to know how to get his athlete back on the track, even when sometimes extensive physical therapy at a German sports-medicine clinic is required. Having never been charged with doping, Bolt has also won over supporters and competitors alike with his superior natural athletic ability and consistently clean record, as well as his trademark “lightning” stance, arms extended like a blot of electricity, which is often imitated by fans worldwide.

Co-directors Benjamin Turner and Gabe Turner present a mix of archival, broadcast and original footage to tell Bolt’s story. As thrilling as the competition clips can be, the off-track scenes reveal the most about the man that millions admire for his athletic success. Back home in Jamaica, Bolt longs to take time off from his grueling training schedule, go on a long vacation or just enjoy some junk food or the occasional drink. Bolt shoots a share of the footage himself as well, speaking his thoughts directly to the camera or chatting with teammates when he’s on the road. The absence of any mention of a love interest in the film seems curious however, although he’s conceivably just too busy for an ongoing relationship.

Bolt says he’ll retire from competitive athletics after the 2017 World Championships and although the next stage of his career isn’t likely to be quite as thrilling, it will probably be followed with comparable interest by the global sports community.

Distributor: UPHE Content Group

Production companies: Fullwell 73, Doyen Global

Directors: Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner

Producer: Leo Pearlman

Executive producers: Simon Oliveira, Matt Kay, Ricky Simms, Nugent Walker

Director of photography: Patrick Smith

Editor: Paul Monaghan

Music: Ian Arber

Rated PG, 102 minutes