Friday, 13 June 2014
On yer bike: "Road"
2011's 3D documentary Closer to the Edge demonstrated it was possible for the movies to do something surprisingly compulsive, even thrilling with the sport of motorcycle roadracing; now we have Diarmuid Lavery and Michael Hewitt's Road, a pendant that fleshes out a saga the earlier film sped past, involving two sets of brothers: Robert and Joey Dunlop, who dominated the sport from the late 1970s onwards, and Robert's sons William and Michael, two of today's leading riders. Ah, Dunlop: it is a name as synonymous with this sport as Senna or Schumacher is with Formula 1, and yet over the years these boys have proven every bit as perishable as their rubber equivalents.
Road opens with a Milan Kundera quote extolling the great freedoms that follow from speed, yet the subsequent film proves attuned to the great pressures facing all riders (chiefly, how to get round the circuit in the fastest time without splatting oneself into a lamppost or brick wall) and those facing the Dunlops in particular: for Robert and Joey, how to keep proving themselves as age crept up on them; for William and Michael, how to uphold and possibly even surpass their father's considerable legacy. Tension builds as we're left to watch archive footage of the Dunlops gliding speedily and serenely around corners, knowing full well the spectacular carnage that ensues whenever someone comes off their bike; put simply, for much of the running time, we're waiting for the worst to happen.
That said, Closer to the Edge was geared rather more towards cinematic sensation: the thrill of hearing an engine rev up in Dolby surround, or seeing the particular topography of the Isle of Man laid out before us in three dimensions. Road pulls up to the kerb in prosaic 2D, as measured in its storytelling as Liam Neeson's ten-words-a-minute narration, and slightly one-sided with it: the sons are left to do laps while we wait for the filmmakers to park the Joey-Robert story and get round to them. Still, for all that, it is well told, and more than a little stirring towards the end: Lavery and Hewitt allow us to feel the Dunlops' need for speed, the compulsion to get back on the bike and prove Death wrong, even as the evidence - the mangled bodies and shattered bikes - piles up to suggest it might not be entirely healthy for them, or indeed anyone.
Road is now showing in selected cinemas.