Review: The Redeemed and the Dominant Is CrossFit’s Most Emotional Documentary Yet

It doesn’t take five minutes for the new CrossFit Games documentary, The Redeemed and the Dominant, to start talking about performance enhancing drugs.

The question on everyone’s lips since the trailer dropped in February was “How is CrossFit going to handle the fact that a podium finisher got popped for performance-enhancing drugs?” The Games documentary has become an annual tradition for the sport and while they’re all magnificent pieces of media, there’s no denying that they’re also well-crafted pieces of marketing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Ricky Garard is a very black mark on the sport’s face. How was CrossFit going to handle its biggest controversy in its own movie?

With eyes wide open, it turns out. A good four times, the two-hour long film takes a break from the workouts for talking heads to discuss the topic of performance-enhancing drugs. We hear from many CrossFit® employees and athletes: Rory McKernan (“Are there PEDs in CrossFit? Yes. Do they affect top athletes? No.”), Mat Fraser (“I’m not gonna say no one does it. If the truth came out, you would be shocked by the names. It’s not podium finishers.”), Dave Castro (“The top people largely are not (using PEDS).”)

Ricky Garard himself also has an interview, filmed during the Games, in which he swears up and down that he could never dope.

“I physically couldn’t do it. If I did it, I couldn’t look my brother or dad in the eye and say I did it.”

The final “it” there is referring to completing the Games.

That’s the long and short of the doping talk: the film spends more time acknowledging and exploring the issue than anyone could reasonably expect, and deserves serious accolades for it.

[Read more: CrossFit’s top athletes respond to Ricky Garard’s failed substance test.]

But Garard isn’t the star of the film. That’s Tia-Clair Toomey.

The Australian CrossFitter and weightlifter is its emotional core, and honestly, these movies needed one. In years past the winners of the Games, at least in the documentaries, haven’t always seemed like especially complicated people. They’ve largely been likable, hyper-driven people who really want to win and will be shattered if they don’t. Toomey brings a rare vulnerability to the winner’s podium. She’s neurotic, she doubts herself, she experiences impostor syndrome. For the Fittest Woman on Earth™, she’s surprisingly relatable.

Toomey’s biggest problem isn’t the other athletes but herself. A flashback to the 2016 Games shows her in a conversation near the end of the competition acknowledging that she probably won’t win. When told not to think that way, she says she’s already accepted it. She came second that year. If she had been more confident in her abilities, could she have taken the title? The question looms and it shapes the documentary’s climax.

Trained by her fiancé Shane Orr, doubt and jitters are ever present in their conversations. They both know that Toomey needs to get out of her head, but she’s too scared of disappointing her loved ones. Their relationship expands the film and when she ultimately wins, the couple’s tears aren’t just from Toomey overcoming her competitors, they’re from Toomey overcoming her doubt. She is the Redeemed.

There are other memorable tidbits in the film. The behind-the-scenes of Castro shaping the workouts (“This is my form of art”), Noah Ohlsen being roundly lambasted for allegedly dragging the weight during the banger. (Fraser calling him “dinklenuts” is a definite highlight.) But while doping rightfully gets a lot of screentime, the core is Toomey’s relationship, which gives the film unexpected emotional heft and elevates it above the usual fare. This is a good movie.

The Redeemed and the Dominant is directed, produced, and written by Heber Cannon, Mariah Moore, and Marston Sawyers. It is distributed by Gravitas and is currently available on iTunes and The CrossFit Journal.

Featured image via CrossFit® on YouTube.

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Nick is a content producer and journalist with over seven years’ experience reporting on four continents. His first articles about health were on a cholera outbreak in rural Kenya while he was reporting for a French humanitarian organization. His next writing job was covering the nightlife scene in Shanghai. He’s written on a lot of different kinds of things, but his passion for health ultimately led him to cover it full time.Shanghai was where he managed to publish his first health related article (it was on managing diarrhea), he then went on to produce a radio documentary about bodybuilding in Australia before he finished his Master’s degrees in Journalism and International Relations and headed to New York City. Here, he’s been writing on health full time for more than five years for outlets like Men's Health, VICE, and Popular Science.Nick’s interest in health kind of comes from an existential angle: how are we meant to live? How do we reach our potential? Does the body influence the mind? (Believe it or not, his politics Master’s focused on religion.)Questions like these took him through a lot of different areas of health and fitness like gymnastics, vegetarianism, kettlebell training, fasting, CrossFit, Paleo, and so on, until he realized (or decided) that strength training fit best with the ideas of continuous, measurable self improvement.At BarBend his writing focuses a little more on nutrition and long-form content with a heaping dose of strength training. His underlying belief is in the middle path: you don’t have to count every calorie and complete every workout in order to benefit from a healthy lifestyle and a stronger body. Plus, big traps are cool.