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'Generation Iron' has pumped-up personalities

| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Bodybuilders are a peculiar bunch. They're extraordinary physical specimens, driven to sculpt their legs, biceps, shoulders and glutes into chiseled masses of impenetrable muscle. Point a camera at them, though — as writer-director Vlad Yudin does for the engaging documentary “Generation Iron” — and these intimidating mountains of taut flesh reveal themselves to be charismatic, funny, passionate and totally aware of the unusual nature of their chosen lifestyles. As narrator Mickey Rourke puts it, “They're in a freak show, with no circus tent to hide away in.”

Yudin's film is a direct relative of the 1977 hit “Pumping Iron,” which introduced mainstream audiences to the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition and helped transform Arnold Schwarzenegger into a household name.

Not much has changed. The science behind rigorous weight training has advanced over the years. Controversial supplements and steroids, which are candidly discussed in Yudin's film, play a larger part in the development of competitive bodybuilders.

But the men showcased in “Generation Iron” still mirror the aggressive, athletic protagonists we're accustomed to seeing in fictional and nonfiction sports features. They are relentless competitors, consumed by their desire to succeed at their chosen sport. They accept no shortcuts. That's why they are the best of the best at what they do.

Sean O'Connell is a contributing writer to the Washington Post.

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