In the Tour de France’s infamous Ireland stage in 1998, a struggling cyclist makes his way into the imminent end of his career. ‘The Racer’ is one cool ride.
Directed by: Kieron J. Walsh.
Starring: Louis Talpe, Matteo Simoni, Tara Lee, Iain Glen, Karel Roden, Timo Wagner, Sarah Carroll, Diogo Cid, Ward Kerremans, Paul Robert, Anthony Mairs, Eoin Byrne, Ozan Saygi, Sebastian Collet, Charles Sobry, Tristan Heanue, Timothy Lone, Nilton Martins, Darren Dixon, Courtney Black, Clarissa Vermaark, Damian Bushe, Molly McCann, Lalor Roddy, Reamonn O’Byrne, Breffni Holahan, Lieven Verbraeken, Rosa Lopez, Veronica Campelo, Julian Nest, Risteard Cooper, John Heathwood, Giovanni Malgarini, Denis Jousselin, Paul Burrows, Shona Murray, Marco Lorenzini, Colin Slattery, Jérôme Varanfrain, James Moore, Aaron O’Donohue, Gavin Byrne, Ryan Byrne, Andy Maguire, Damien Murphy, Edvins Silov.
Country: Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium.
Running time: 95 minutes.
The Racer is a very ambitious movie.
It’s not what you’d expect from an independent movie. It looks big, it sounds big, and it plays big. But I believe there’s an ambitious tone in how it surpasses its moral dilemma with such ease, and manages to portray a human conflict that’s not redeeming at all, but that engages the viewer in something other than the typical question we ask when watching sport dramas: How far would you go to be the best?
And there, in that stage of the inevitable character deconstruction in The Racer, the film turns into a risky portrayal of the conundrum in the world of competitiveness and sports. As I said, it’s ambitious to say the least.
However, The Racer is also quite interesting in its simplicity. A sports drama that dares to go inside a rotten practice and doesn’t necessarily make something out of it, but instead focuses on the personality of a man that acts desperately in order to survive his last adventure. He doesn’t change his routine. He’s not erratic at all. He just realizes the tight spot he’s in, and the (last) resources for his survival. These kind of characters are unusual.
In The Racer the Tour de France of 1998 is relocated to Ireland for one of its stages. This was the tour that revealed some of the most common and illegal resources of cycling. The use of EPO was quite common among teams. For Dominique Chabol, it’s just another tool for being the best support rider there is. However, all things must come to an end and this stage may be his last in the team, and in his career. He decides to push a little farther and be the best, even if it means sacrificing his own sanity.
Sports movies are usually very journeys of emotions, frustrations and victories. But The Racer takes all the formulas and puts them aside. The film’s scope is centralized on a human strife that’s quite personal. Even if the film is not realistic (there’s a very clever declaration of fiction at the beginning), this doesn’t mean Dominique’s character is not a composition of confessions. The emotional load of the character is overwhelming, powered by a fantastic performance by Louis Talpe. He gives himself completely to the role, but he’s not “explosive”. His emotions are so limited by the rules of the sport and his team, that one almost feels sad of his most probable outcome.
Cycling is a sport that has lost importance over decades, mostly due to undeniable doping evidence. A movie cannot serve as a redemption attempt for the sport. And I thought The Racer would try this. I was mistaken. In this film the damage is done, the wound is open. It’s impossible to stay away from morally questioning the decision to cheat, but Dominique doesn’t want to be a hero, and also doesn’t say he is one.
What is he? A victim? Or a survivor? You decide.