Schoek openly disdains communication with others, claiming he simply isn't interested in other people. But it's the internet that unites him with Chris Rider, aka Hairculese, an Oldetime Strongman who wants to bring feats of power back to Coney Island with his beard-based stunts. Together, they train, Schoeck eventually finding his way into a group of strongman legends and up-and-comers, a veritable Justice League of muscle. Most of them are heavily tattooed and massive, often unkempt, which is what makes the eye drift back towards clean-shaven, quiet Chris. For once, you can finally see Chris motivated to work within a unit: we never see extensive footage of him interacting with women, and he doesn't seem to have any friends, despite his polite nature and easygoing attitude.
"Bending Steel" could have been more lightweight, perhaps even comedic, in depicting these gargantuan tasks onscreen, and the thought of awkward Chris finding a rapport with audience could have been used for cruel, awkwardly-edited laughs. Fortunately director Dave Carroll doesn't go this route at all. "Bending Steel" is startlingly cinematic, the compelling visuals capturing Chris' fairly lonely world of steel manipulation in solitude with a sense of awe and power. Older footage of earlier strongmen set a tone by being treated with mythic reverence and respect: these are the heroes of yesterday, and Schoeck's admittedly un-cinematic skill (he lunges over and his face disappears as we see him twist and bend each new object, even after he physically "cheats" to the audience through more photogenic postures) is seen as a more specific contemporary approach to these abilities.
The doc eventually develops a compelling but nicely underplayed suspense regarding the first show. Schoeck has inexplicably opted to use the opening night as fuel to finally bend a two-inch thick piece of steel that has taunted him for months, and the question is whether he can manage this feat, gaining the love and support of an audience he only pretends to understand. "Bending Steel" climaxes in a way that would shake even the most hardened viewer: you'd never expect a film about the continual bending of steel to become quite so touching. To not shed a tear at Chris' final stand is a herculean (not Hairculean) task is a near-impossibility. At one point, Chris speaks to the camera about the tall tale of a trigger that allows someone to reach their peak strength, something that motivates them to surpass their previous limits. For some audience members, it may just be this inspirational film that provides that very trigger. [A]