The Racer

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Racer
"The Racer strikes a good balance between teasing out issues around doping and delivering on character-driven drama."

In most sports films it's all about winning. For Dom (Louis Talpe) that has never been the point. He has spent his whole career serving as a domestique - a support rider. It's his job to cycle just ahead of flashy younger teammate Lupo (Matteo Simoni) to catch the wind for him and open up space. Now in his late thirties, he's nearing the end of his viable career and finding the role increasingly taxing. As he prepares for the Tour de France, he also harbours a secret desire to wear the yellow jersey just once.

This is the late Nineties, and anyone who knows cycling or who remembers the news from that era will be alert to the fact that a big doping scandal is about to break. The film wisely steers away from that well-trodden territory but explores what preceded it: the culture of doping itself, not as a series of decisions made by individuals who wanted to cheat the system, but intrinsic to the system itself. When we meet Dom, he's already using without thinking about it. His coach, ably played by Iain Glen, tells him what to do and he does it. It's the sort of deeply trusting hierarchical relationship that rarely exists outside sport and the military. Focused on getting the best out of his body, he has surrendered control of it; but when he meets young Irish doctor Lynn (Tara Lee), who is concerned about his health, everything becomes more complicated.

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With a lot more going on than the average sporting drama, The Racer strikes a good balance between teasing out issues around doping - the different attitudes of the athletes, the tricks used to get around tests, the collusion of doctors - and delivering on character-driven drama. Dom's professional teamwork with Lupo sits alongside an element of rivalry which manifests in other aspects of life, but they've been through enough together for it to defy easy classification. His developing romantic connection with Lynn is complicated by her concern for medical ethics and growing fear for his safety. Encountering her laid-back friends and family, and discovering the big divide between Irish attitudes to life and what he's known at work, forces Dom to rethink what he wants in life at a point when his future is suddenly uncertain and when he needs to start looking beyond the finish line.

Tonally, too, the film is well balanced. We don't actually spend much time with the racing but director Kieron J Walsh knows how to handle the action and keeps it gripping when we do. He's equally at ease with interpersonal drama and with the elements of comedy that keep the film from becoming too intense. Talpe makes a strong lead, keeping us with Dom at times when he seems out of control and giving him a depth and complexity that reflect his experience. For all that he may be single-minded about his job, he's increasingly aware that his life is a mass of competing interests.

With an ending which is in itself more interesting than some aspects of the narrative may lead you to expect, The Racer is a great all-rounder. As a small independent film it's not expecting to lead the pack on release, but you might well consider it a winner.



The Racer is available on streaming platforms from 18 December

Reviewed on: 15 Dec 2020
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The Racer packshot
Summer 1998 – the opening stages of Le Tour de France are relocated to Ireland. Belgian rider Dom has been one of the best support riders on the Tour for the last 20 years but he secretly harbours a desire to wear the yellow jersey just once before his career is over.

Director: Kieron J Walsh

Writer: Ciaran Cassidy, Kieron J. Walsh, Sean Cook, Ciaran Cassidy

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

Year: 2020

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium

Festivals:

Black Nights 2020

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