A correction was made to this review on Apr. 8, 2004.
A headlong rush into the ultra-dangerous, ultra-competitive world of championship motorcycle racing, Mark Neale’s “Faster” reps an often thrilling, always compelling intro to the sport, assuredly laying out the rules of the game and the key players in it. But while “Faster” is a natural for sports junkies and motorcycle enthusiasts, it also provides the kind of involving human element achieved by the best sports docus. Getting the message out in a crowded marketplace will be the primary marketing challenge faced by this debut release from Slamdance’s newly formed distribution company, scheduled to open in Los Angeles and other select cities April 23.
Filmed over the course of the 2001 and 2002 racing seasons, docu hooks auds from the start with its visceral depiction of a sport that, nevertheless, has yet to achieve the same pop profile in the U.S. it has overseas. Having grown out of the more familiar indoor motorcross competitions seen more than 30 years ago in Bruce Brown’s seminal “On Any Sunday,” the MotoGP competition circuit consists of a series of 16 annual races that culminate with one champion.
While the bikes may look, to the untrained eye, like ordinary motorcycles, they can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. The riders must use the entire force of their bodies to steer the bikes, we’re told, and while rounding corners they frequently drag their knees along the track in order to create the proper level of resistance.
Pic shows the inevitable crashes — spectacular slide-outs and excruciating end-over-end flips that almost always result in multiple broken bones (if not worse, as in the case of now-paralyzed former racer Wayne Rainey). Yet, the competitors persevere, often racing injured, taking a certain pride in their battle scars. (Among the film’s more extraordinary sights: Australian racer Garry McCoy hobbling to his bike after having a titanium rod put in his leg, only to crash again.)
The spectacular footage of races and crashes often comes from on-board cameras that approximate the rider’s p.o.v. And Neale finds plenty of time to acquaint us with the riders themselves, in particular McCoy, American whizkid John Hopkins and famed Italian rivals Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi. We also meet the managers, mechanics and, in one memorable instance, the doctors working behind the scenes.
Still, if there were a concrete answer to the question of why men like this do the things they do, the sport itself would probably be a lot less thrilling. So, by and large, Neale trusts his images to tell what words can’t, like the indescribable mix of terror, awe and exaltation that washes across the face of Hopkins’ mother as she watches her son in one of his first pro races.
Technically, pic is highly accomplished, as Neale and cinematographer Grant Gee mix up the ultra-slick racing sequences with verite inserts captured on grainy, color-saturated film. The propulsive electronic music score by tomandandy (“Arlington Road”) is a plus.