WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 22, 2017
 
Blog SPORTS EXTRAS
THE STRIKING TRUTH
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BY: Barrett Hooper

The Striking Truth, which aspires to be the Hoop Dreams of MMA documentaries, held its red carpet premiere on Friday with the film's subjects, Georges St Pierre and David Loiseau, in attendance.

Oakville filmmaker – and infomercial director – Steven J. Wong spent the better part of four years following the fighters, and the film juxtaposes GSP’s march to the top of the welterweight division with the rollercoaster career of Loiseau, a one-time UFC middleweight contender who continues to bounce between the UFC and multiple smaller promotions.

"Georges and David let me shoot anything and everything I wanted, which is easy to agree to when you’re holding a championship belt but a little harder when you’ve got a camera in your face while you're at the hospital after getting beaten," says Wong, who became friends with the fighters after he met Loiseau, his favourite fighter, at a martial arts and fitness trade show several years ago.
 
In fact, the documentary was actually Loiseau’s idea. “I thought it would be cool to have people follow us around to see our side of the story, what it’s really like to be a fighter,” Loiseau said following the near-capacity screening.
 
While Loiseau’s up-and-down underdog story is the more compelling, it’s not surprising that GSP gets most of the screen time. We see inside his home in Montreal, we meet his parents at Christmas, we see home movies of a floppy-haired 13-year-old GSP giving a karate demonstration, we see his early pre-UFC fights, and we follow him through training, some of which is vividly shot by Bobby Razak of Tapout commercial fame.
 
But as close as the camera gets to GSP, including inside the hotel room hours after he lost his title to Matt Serra, we’re never shown anything more than what we’ve already seen when he coached on The Ultimate Fighter. We’re always at a remove, unaware of what motivates him beyond sports clichés about being the best and proving himself. Countless minutes of watching GSP perform Van Damme-style spin kicks are no substitute for substance, no matter how vividly they’re photographed.
 
This is a problem with many fight documentaries, and documentaries in general. The filmmaker is so enamoured with his subject that he or she lacks serious critical distance, do not ask hard questions or press their subjects into uncomfortable or challenging territory. No serious questions are raised after St-Pierre's title loss against Serra that supposedly forced him to change his entire approach to training (and no mention is made of the personal issues he was reportedly dealing with going into that fight). Ditto B.J. Penn’s greasing allegations and the rumours of steroid use that have dogged him. If GSP chose to answer those questions for the camera, then Wong left them on the cutting room floor, choosing to instead give himself a few choice scenes, including a ridiculous shot of him schooling GSP at ping pong while dressed in a designer suit.
 
The camera followed GSP and Loiseau around for several years – and for hundreds of hours of footage - during what have to be some of the most difficult moments in both of their lives. Loiseau’s lack of mental focus and fight anxiety following the loss to middleweight champ Rich Franklin and his inability to stick in the UFC get particular attention. But just as we begin to dig below the surface, the film shifts back to GSP, who offers little in the way of self-reflection. Instead, fortune cookie platitudes are passed off as deep insights into the psychological make-up of two fighters competing on the most elite stage of the sport.

Endless minutes of hyper-stylized footage (none of it in 3D, despite claims the film would at least be partially in 3D and the presence of 3D cameramen in the closing credits) of GSP shadowboxing and Loiseau pimping Tapout feels like the realm of commercials, not documentary filmmaking. And the complete lack of fight footage from any of their UFC bouts (an issue of not being able to secure or more likely afford the rights, although Wong says he never had any desire to incorporate UFC footage) is painfully obvious.  
 
The most compelling moment in the film is when we follow Loiseau to the hospital after his UFC 115 loss that left him considering retirement (Loiseau did in fact retire, if only briefly; Loiseau won the Tachi Palace Fights middleweight belt just last week and is already plotting the path that will take him back to the UFC).

“The failure is tough to deal with and tough to see on screen,” Loiseau said after the screening. “The stuff after the Franklin fight is hard to watch, and then after I lost at UFC 115, I told everyone I was done, I didn’t want to fight any more. Then, four months later I looked at myself in the mirror and realized it was time to get back in the gym. Sure, I had issues with panic and anxiety, but I realized that you can train all you want but you get better at fighting by fighting.”
 
Unfortunately, there’s far too much fluff and boredom smothering the rest of the film. And Wong repeatedly tries to convey meaning and pull heartstrings with obviously rehearsed and scripted lines spoken by GSP and Loiseau that go over like a lead balloon. The shot of the two of them running side by side through a park before they veer off in different directions is the metaphorical equivalent of an anvil on Wile E. Coyote’s head.
 
What had the potential to be something intimate and revealing – it’s hard to imagine another filmmaker who isn’t buddies with GSP and Loiseau getting this close to them for so long – ends up being shallow and wasteful. This is a huge missed opportunity – if you are an MMA fan you could not ask for two more charming personalities and a better story about overcoming or coping with adversity.
 
And what did GSP learn from the experience of being trailed by cameras? “I didn’t learn nothing,” he said matter-of-factly after the screening, admitting that there’s a lot more to who he is than what we see in The Striking Truth. “I have a lot of things that stay private, private, private.”

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