Review: GSP doc “The Striking Truth” feels fake
More than a few fighters have called Georges St. Pierre a robot and the perpetuation of that image of the UFC welterweight champ as an automaton continues in The Striking Truth, the highly glossy promo reel disguised as gritty documentary about GSP and pal David Loiseau that had it’s world premiere at Toronto’s Sony Centre on Friday.
In the green room prior to the screening, GSP was surrounded by over-glammed and overly fawning female reporters and hangers-on in push-up bras and fuck-me pumps while Loiseau sat quietly and texted on his phone. It’s a scene that foreshadowed The Striking Truth beautifully – GSP gets all the attention, while Loiseau, who’s up-and-down career in the UFC is as compelling as any, spends a lot of time watching from the sidelines.
The film juxtaposes the careers of the two friends and fighters over a period of four years, starting around the time of UFC 58: USA vs. Canada in 2006, when GSP beat BJ Penn (setting him up for a title shot against Matt Hughes) and Loiseau lost a middleweight title bout against Rich Franklin, sending his career into a bit of a tailspin.
While both fighters have had trials and tribulations, GSP has risen to the top of the MMA world as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters, while Loiseau has been cut from the UFC several times and fights for much smaller audiences and even smaller paychecks.
We follow GSP through training (some of which is expertly if redundantly shot by Bobby Razak of Tapout fame), although all of it infinitely less compelling than the average UFC preview show. We’re also invited into GSP’s home. However, instead of feeling like I have gleaned some insight into the mind of a champion or am seeing a side of GSP that I hadn’t already been privy to thanks to his recent coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter, it plays like the longest, dullest, most-superficial episode of MTV Cribs ever made. He even shows us how his shower works and how he mixes salts into his bath water. There are no skeletons in GSP’s closets because he showed us those, too, and they’re filled with Affliction shirts.
This is a problem with many fight documentaries. The filmmakers (in this case, GSP pal Steven J. Wong ) are so enamored with their subjects that they lack serious critical distance, do not ask hard questions or press their subjects into uncomfortable or challenging territories. No serious questions are raised after his title loss against Matt Serra that supposedly changed his entire approach to training for a fight (or the personal issues he was reportedly dealing with going into the fight). Ditto BJ Penn’s greasing allegations and the rumours of steroid use. 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.
Despite the camera following GSP and Loiseau around for several years – and for hundreds if not thousands of hours of footage – during what has to be some of the most difficult moments in both of their lives (Loiseau’s mental focus issues following the loss to Franklin and his inability to stick in the UFC get particular attention), I felt no closer to understanding what makes them tick. 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.And not once did I feel convinced they’d answered that most basic question: Why do they fight?
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) is painfully obvious. Instead, we get home video of a floppy haired 13-year-old GSP performing a karate kata (yes, we have to watch the entire damn kata), and then the filmmaker proceeds to walk us through his entire career, fight by fight. This pre-UFC material was obviously the only fight footage available to Wong, but it’s nothing fans haven’t seen before on Youtube (despite Wong’s claims to the contrary) and only serves to make the lack of UFC footage glaringly obvious.
The most compelling moment in the film is when we follow Loiseau to the hospital following 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).
Unfortunately, there’s far too much fluff and boredom smothering the rest of the film. And Wong repeatedly tried to convey meaning and pull heart strings 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. This film is not that story.