The Racer

The grim determination of an athlete contemplating his final race.

(2020) Sports Drama (GravitasLouis Talpe, Matteo Simoni, Tara Lee, Iain Glen, Karel Roden, Timo Wagner, Diogo Cid, Ward Kerremans, Paul Robert, Anthony Mairs, Ozan Saygi, Sebaastian Collet, Charles Sobry, Clarissa Vermaark, Molly McCann, Lalor Roddy, Reamonn O’Byrne, Breffni Holahan, Denis Joussein, Marco Lorenzini, Colin Slattery, Sarah Carroll. Directed by Kieron J. Walsh

 

Even those who aren’t cycling fans are aware that the Tour de France is the most famous race in the sport, the pinnacle of achievement. However, those who aren’t cycling fans may well know of the scandal that struck the sport in 1998 when whole teams and some of the biggest stars of the sport were discovered to be doping with performance-enhancing drugs.

The 1998 race was further unusual that the prologue stages took place in Ireland rather than in France (the World Cup was being held in France at the time and the organizers of the Race wanted to eliminate any overlap). Team Austrange is a leading contender to win the event, as is their lead cyclist, Lupo “Tartare” Marino (Simoni). The ice-cold coach “Viking” (Roden) has at his disposal a team that includes the veteran domestique – support rider meant to set the pace and allow the lead cyclist to utilize his draft in order to minimize effort, before making a sprint for the finish – Dominique Chabol (Talpe). Chabol, however, is getting on in years – he’s 39 – and even though he has given years of his life to the team, Viking is eager to put a younger rider into the position.

However, when that rider is disqualified for failing a blood test, the team reinstates Chabol who is beginning to question his loyalty. He is close to the trainer, ex-rider Sonny McElhone (Glen) and is developing a romantic relationship with the Irish team doctor (Lee), while seeing to the needs of the high-strung Tartare and trying to avoid letting the authorities that nearly the entire team is doping. His rivalry with Stefanio Drago (Wagner) which erupted in bad blood the previous year is also rearing its ugly head.

This is essentially a competently made sports drama, and when it sticks to that, the film works very well indeed. Unfortunately, it tries to take on too many plot elements and, in the end, feels as much of a soap opera as a sports drama. The race sequences are exciting and Talpe does a great job of portraying an athlete nearing the end of his career. He looks natural on a bike, and one has to assume he’s done his share of riding.

I’m not sure how much interest the film will generate in the United States; cycling isn’t a very big deal here, particularly since Lance Armstrong essentially tarnished the sport for most casual followers. However, European readers and North American readers into cycling will probably get into this big time. There really isn’t anything overtly wrong with the film other than the extraneous elements of the romance with the Irish doctor, and some predictable plot points – a health issue with a key character, a young teammate who objects to the team doping culture, and so on  There is also nothing particularly outstanding about the movie, other than the cycling sequences and they are key to whether you are going to enjoy the movie or not. If sports dramas are your thing, you might get into this even if you’re not necessarily a cycling fan. If you aren’t into sports dramas, there’s probably nothing here that will capture your interest. Choose accordingly.

REASONS TO SEE: Well-paced and well-photographed.
REASONS TO AVOID: Non-cycling fans may get a little bit lost.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scene in which the peloton crashes was not staged or rehearsed; it’s an actual accident, and Timo Wagner, the actor who played Drago, spent the night in the hospital.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/2/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Breaking Away
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
A Call to Spy

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