Director: Lesley Chilcott
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Competitive and calculating in equal measure, he broke every rule and saw crisis as a terrible thing to waste. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man of many parts, and very successful at that, most of the times.
A world body-building champion for a record 13 times and a leading Hollywood star whose films minted money at the box office, he was an unlikely politician who not only worked towards building California, but fought climate change with equal passion. Arnie has thrived in not one but three dramatically opposite careers and how!
Lesley Chilcott helms ‘Arnold’, a three-part documentary that takes viewers up, close and personal with the magic that Arnie still is. It opens in snow-clad, breathtaking Thal, Austria — his hometown, with the 75-year-old star chilling in a hot tub. The three-hour narrative builds right from his childhood days, his vision and how he went about fulfilling it step by step. Famous that he was, there is ample footage of the many successes and some failures, as Arnold narrates his story and the who’s who of the world joins in.
Divided into three parts — Athlete, Actor, American — the opening act talks about the dizzying success of an Austrian farm boy who won multiple Mr Universe and Mr Olympia titles. Much to his father’s chagrin, who would rather have him try soccer or skiing, or his mother who would worry about posters of naked oiled men (body-builders) over his bed, Arnold decided his career path rather early. He would not just be the best in the body-building business, but also a successful star and a politician.
The second part focuses on how he, with a bulky body and a pronounced accent, went ahead despite everyone guaranteeing failure, to become one of the most successful movie stars that America has seen. His early success with ‘Pumping Iron’ at Cannes, winning a Golden Globe as Best Acting Debut for ‘Stay Hungry’, equation with James Cameron, and rivalry with Sylvester Stallone keep this bit particularly engaging.
The last part talks of how he managed to bend the system and fight for Governor of California. He won, despite the huge odds, and enjoyed not one but two successful terms, working relentlessly for the welfare of the state and carrying out many initiatives, including climate change.
In this brilliant documentary, Arnold goes back and forth — both happy and uncomfortable moments alike, the joy of winning and crushing defeats and how these sent him bawling. He bares it all in interviews that take place at picturesque locations, where he’s having fun on his six-wheeler running through the snow, taking care of his pets and yes, pumping iron still.
Chilcott builds a gripping narrative that even towards the end of three hours keeps the viewer’s interest alive, counting to the days of Arnie’s election (despite having seen it unfold in real time already). While the docu-series largely builds on taped events, director of photography Logan Schneider catches brilliant shots wherever he has Arnold in the frame. The music works like magic, building crescendo, and juxtaposed with chirping of birds in his idyllic life.
Arnold says it all — his difficult relationship with his parents, fairytale love with Maria Shriver, the magic of holding his first child, to struggling through different challenges. The segment where he opens up about fathering a son with his former housekeeper dampens his charismatic star status, and one wishes otherwise. This kept him from spending his golden years with his loved ones.
‘Arnold’ is an inspiring story of how a man can turn challenges into strength. His views might not be in sync with the mental health ‘woke’ world of today, but seem practical, considering he believes his father pushed his elder brother to alcohol abuse.
Arnie managed to hop between Austria, Germany, England, South Africa and America, fulfilling one leg of his ambitious life plan, making a fresh start thrice over.
‘Arnold’ is a charming take on a stupendously successful man. What’s more striking is that it’s not just a story of a man but the world of his times — broken men in Austria post World War II, the Hollywood blitzkrieg and the big American dream! And who isn’t there — right from the Kennedys to Obama, Jay Leno to Sylvester Stallone and the triumph of the human spirit in the toughest of times. It’s a must watch.