VOD film review: The Racer (2020)
Cycling and doping8
Matthew Turner | On 18, Dec 2020
Director: Kieron J Walsh
Cast: Louis Talpe, Matteo Simoni, Tara Lee, Iain Glen, Karel Roden, Timo Wagner, Sarah Carroll, Diogo Cid, Sebastian Collet
Where to watch The Racer online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Inspired by the real-life doping scandal that rocked the Irish leg of the Tour de France in 1998, this fictionalised sports drama from co-writer-director Kieron J Walsh centres on professional cyclist Dom Chabol (Louis Talpe), a “domestique” for the Belgian team, whose job is to open up space and create slipstreams so that his younger, flashier teammate Lupo “Tartare” Marino (Matteo Simoni) can take the coveted yellow jersey. Already in his late thirties, Dom is acutely aware that his career could soon come to an end and he’s become increasingly reliant on the drugs dished out by longtime friend and coach Sonny (Iain Glen) to keep him in the race.
However, when Dom experiences a health scare and meets Irish doctor Lynn Brennan (Tara Lee, lovely), he has something of a wake-up call. At the same time, he’s gripped by the desire to take the yellow jersey himself for once, not least because team owner Viking (Karel Roden) is hinting that he might not renew Dom’s contract for the next season.
With the impending doping scandal background firmly established by captions at the beginning, the film steers clear of the more obvious story, instead focusing on the culture and circumstances that lead to the widespread nature of the scandal in the first place. As Dom guiltily explains to Lynn, “everyone does it”, and the script shows you exactly how that might come about, with even the team’s youngest, fittest member struggling to keep up.
The film is particularly strong when it comes to the extent of the collusion that exists at every level of the sport, from doctors to race organisers and team owners. To that end, Lee’s character plays a significant part in the story – she offers a faint glimmer of conscience for Dom, but she also shows just how easy it is to become corrupted by the system.
Taupe is terrific in the lead role, delivering an intensely physical performance that’s further heightened by James Mather’s almost fetishistic camerawork, highlighting every straining sinew and showcasing body shapes that don’t seem quite real. That sense of almost other-worldly physicality adds considerably to the atmosphere of the film, accentuating the idea that the cyclists operate within their own tightly sealed little community where everything else, up to and including their own families, is secondary to the team’s success.
Walsh’s shrewd direction brilliantly captures that exclusion of the outside world, which in itself helps explain the prominence of the doping. He also does a great job of the racing scenes (aided by some stylish aerial camerawork) and includes a number of telling details, such as the cyclists urinating or vomiting as they race around the course. The finishing touch is a superb score from Hannes De Maeyer, coupled with some inspired sound design work that incorporates the ticking of bicycle spokes to excellent effect.
The Racer (2020) is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.