Rising Phoenix review – scattershot ode to one of the world’s great sporting events

A well-intentioned Netflix documentary on the Paralympics is moving but lacks focus and falls back on a heavy-handed score

A potted history of the Paralympic Games, Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix has a touch of meta melancholy about it, seeing as its late-August release should have, in a COVID-free world, coincided perfectly with the Tokyo Paralympics. Instead it emerges as an intermittently moving warm-up for the delayed events, as well as an effective flashback to the hope and happiness that surrounded the 2012 edition of the Games in London.

Focusing more on breadth than depth, Rising Phoenix touches on the history of the Games themselves, journeys of various individual athletes at London 2012 and Rio 2016, the organisational woes of Rio 2016, and the life story of the Games’ remarkable founder Ludwig Guttman.

Some of these stories, particularly those of Guttman and young Italian fencer Beatrice Vio, are genuinely stirring, but the scattershot focus means that some moments don’t have the time or space to really make an impact. An over-insistent score tries to coax up more emotion, but ends up getting in the way, drowning out the incredible achievements on screen with saccharine sentimentality.

Plenty of the footage of the athletes training and competing is awe-inspiring (or, in the case of “murderball,” terrifying), and really doesn’t need any musical assistance. Surprisingly for a documentary with an ultimate message of empowerment, there isn’t quite enough faith in the athletes on display here. Rising Phoenix is at its most moving and uplifting when it simply allows the athletes to tell their stories in their own words.

Rising Phoenix is now streaming on Netflix.

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