The Game Changers

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Game Changers
"As Psihoyos dissects the marketing that has kept men believing in meat for decades, he's also gently shifting the concept of masculinity itself into a more positive space." | Photo: Patrik Baboumian

Arnold Schwarzenegger has top billing in this documentary about diet. He only makes a substantial appearance in one scene, but it's a critical one. Why? Because his fans will be familiar with the fact that he's had lifelong heart problems and had to balance his passion for bodybuilding with his health. As an icon of masculinity, he caused shockwaves when he announced that he was going to switch to a plant-based diet but now he looks and apparently feels much better than he did before, and his blood results back that up. He's a one man advert for how vegetarianism can make a difference, and it seems unlikely that anyone would dare tell him he's less of a man because of it.

The notion that there's an intersection between diet and masculinity lies at the heart of Louie Psihoyos' film, nearly all of whose contributors are male. Narrator James Wilks reflects on how he grew up believing that real men ate steak and men who wanted to win fights with other men ate three steaks a day. We don't really need the advertising images that back this up, given that they're still prolific, but they future-proof the film and one can imagine future audiences watching in wonder, laughing at the absurdity of these beliefs the way we laugh at old cigarette adverts today. The evidence has been there for quite some time to show how ridiculous it is, but Psihoyos is interested in communicating directly with men who still buy into it, recognising that the sports and bodybuilding communities are nevertheless full of people who are keen to get whatever edge an adjustment in diet might give them.

The adjustment he proposes will be seen by many as a radical one: cut out animal-based proteins altogether. Many will not take this seriously, but the impressive number of vegetarian and vegan athletes and strongmen he has assembled to make his point may make them think again. There is extensive talk here of improving on times, beating personal records and overcoming a multitude of physical challenges. It's anecdote rather than evidence but it's emotionally resonant.

The science here is dumbed down considerably and the film sometimes makes poor arguments for theories that are better evidence elsewhere, but most of the facts as it presents them are well grounded and it never makes the mistake of getting too obscure. it also acknowledges its limitations in places, such as when an entertaining but distinctly unscientific experiment on the effect of diet on erections is carried out. There's lighthearted humour throughout which makes sure the subject of competitive masculinity never becomes obnoxious - a little bit of trash talking goes on between boxers prior to a fight but it's there so it can be challenged later and both participants have a laugh about it. As Psihoyos dissects the marketing that has kept men believing in meat for decades, he's also gently shifting the concept of masculinity itself into a more positive space.

The film starts too slowly, doing little for the first 20 minutes but say 'plant-based diets build muscle better than meat-based diets' in lots of different ways, but once it gets going it makes up for lost time. this is an argument for dietary change that is refreshingly free of sentiment, touching only briefly on concerns about animal welfare and ecological sustainability, instead concentrating almost entirely on health. It's well targeted, lean and muscular.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2019
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James Wilks, an elite special forces trainer and winner of The Ultimate Fighter, embarks on a quest for the truth in nutrition and uncovers the world's most dangerous myth.

Director: Louie Psihoyos

Year: 2018

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2018

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