The Racer – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director: Kieron J. Walsh
Writers: Ciaran Cassidy, Kieron J. Walsh
Stars: Louis Talpe, Matteo Simoni, Tara Lee
Delivering much more than it promises, The Racer is a sobering tale of struggle and sacrifice and the extremes to which cyclists will go to achieve their dreams. The opening stages of the 1998 Tour de France took place in Ireland, an oblique bi-centenary tribute to the French landings during the 1798 Rebellion. The race itself continuing across the usual gruelling route in France became infamous in sporting history. Dubbed the Tour de Farce it was mired in endless doping scandals, police raids, sit-down strikes, stashes of performance drug Erythropoieitin (EPO), and the expulsion of the whole Festina Lotus Team. It was perhaps the lowest point in the history of the sport.
Set against the background of these events the initial impression is that we are due for some international police drug-bust drama, garda investigations on the way to Enniscorthy? But this is far from the case. Apart from a sentimental glimpse of old public telephones and dodgy musical tastes, the setting in Ireland is of little consequence – the narrative could have been played out at any stage in the race.
The plot is really signalled in the evocative opening sequence of sweat covered back muscles enduring the rigour of training. We follow the struggle of the likeable fictional hero, Dominique, who fulfils the role of domestique, literally servant in cycling terminology, whose role is to work for the team’s benefit – facilitating stage wins by the golden boy of the moment. Always the bridesmaid but never the bride… he is literally a professional loser. Coming to the end of his career – with no guarantee of a future; the stories of former heroes of the sport now obese taxi drivers in Antwerp do not inspire confidence. We may ask why anyone would go through so much for so little. Subjecting his body to all sorts of trials and ordeals, performance enhancers, along with abandoning his family and ditching the ethically compromised Irish doctor/ love interest, his same back muscles essentially carry the whole film.
Through expression, simple gesture, and an ability to create empathy he conveys a lot. The surrounding narrative of fragile egos, team camaraderie, petty jealousies, pressure and pain, help illuminate for the non-initiated the rigours of this most rigorous of sports. We may question his sacrifice but we ultimately cheer his victory even though we know he is doped up to the eyeballs. In this, perhaps unwittingly, the film asks us why we ourselves become compromised and expect so much from the athletes involved.