June 5, 2014 4:45 pm

Road – film review

A belief-defying story about two brothers competing for impossible victories
Road

In cinema – world of surprises – you never know where the next astonishment will come from. Among this week’s promised films, Road stood out as the one I least wanted to see. A motorcycling documentary narrated by Liam Neeson. Wasn’t there some paint somewhere I could watch drying? 

Cometh the day, cometh the revelation. A motor sports ignoramus has this advantage: I had never heard of Joey and Robert Dunlop, competing brothers in a post-1970s Northern Irish motorcycling dynasty so triumph-rich and tragedy-rich, that it should have stirred the reposing bones of Aeschylus. Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt, co-filmmakers, do little more than fire a starting gun and let their story go. Go it does. Here are impossible victories, terrible accidents, inconceivable recoveries – and deaths from which there is no return, except the artistic return of an inspiring story, one that touches the depths and all but breaks the heart.

We live in a golden age for screen sporting stories. Rush made our pulses race; Next Goal Wins won laughs and tears; expect soon the Cannes-lauded Foxcatcher, dramatising weirder-than-fiction events in the American wrestling world. Good sport is good drama. Road takes us from scepticism to spellbound spectating in the first 60 action seconds: biker’s-eye thrill rides at Mach speeds, blurring passing trees and hedges, swooping at bends to kiss the tarmac. Place: the Northern Irish and Manx highways, public-curfewed during contests except for the swelling hordes of watchers.

We take our hearts from our mouths, as if to breathe again, at each off-road interlude. But that’s a vain move: hearts are swiftly back in mouths as the human-interest tale, skilfully narrated and back-storied, gains power, pathos and momentum. Surely this couldn’t have happened to a single sporting family, or that . . . ? (I step around spoilers.) Joey and Robert are two unalike brothers – doughty, dashing road warrior and shyer sibling spurring himself to rivalry – until their lives collide in coincidences, some marvellous, some terrible.

The film spins its belief-defying story all the way to the end, by which time Robert’s sons have begun to pick up the patrimony of curse, triumph and kismet. This ought to be a Greek tragedy. Instead it’s just a biker documentary. But never was “just” less of a mot juste.



Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Life & Arts on Twitter

More FT Twitter accounts
 
SHARE THIS QUOTE