Shamelessly sentimental but tough to resist, “The Finishers” follows a differently abled teen and his dad in their efforts to train for and compete in a triathlon together, the father heroically pulling his wheelchair-bound kid while swimming, running and biking. Amazingly, the result goes the distance, thanks in large part to believable performances by the leads and vivid footage of the big race, shrewdly shot by director Nils Tavernier (son of Bertrand) at last year’s Ironman France competition in Nice. With Tavernier taking every imaginable opportunity for uplift, fans of inspirational sports drama, particularly Gallic ones, will be challenged not to cheer.
Blatant in the acknowledgment of his own inspiration, the director includes a scene of father and son sitting together to enjoy the final rounds of “Rocky.” As in that underdog Oscar winner, training sequences get the viewer’s blood pumping, even if the outcome of “The Finishers,” partly owing to its title, is never in doubt.
Living in the mountains outside Nice, a 17-year-old boy with congenital palsy, Julien Amblard (Jacques Gamblin), is adored by his hairdresser mom, Claire (Alexandra Lamy), who calls him “Pet,” and largely ignored by his brooding dad, Paul (Fabien Heraud), a well-fit former Ironman competitor who has lost his job performing maintenance on ski lifts and is drowning in self-pity. Employment woes aside, Paul seems not to know how to relate to his son, preferring to keep a distance that, over years, has become tragic.
Julien, moved by the story of a father-son triathlon team from the U.S., gets the idea that he and Paul should follow suit; the kid, bless his heart, is clearly less interested in the adventure per se than in using it as a way to connect with distant Dad. When Paul gruffly balks at the notion, Julien leaves home in protest, motoring his wheelchair down the highway until Dad comes to rescue him.
Awakened at long last to his cruel neglect of Julien, Paul eventually agrees to train with him. Claire initially feels that the race will be too dangerous, but soon enough, Mom is looking on approvingly as the kid uses the bathtub to practice shifting his weight.
From there, “The Finishers” follows a formulaic path to an obvious conclusion. But the film’s heart is hard to deny, and its tech credits, especially Laurent Machuel’s cinematography and Jean-Michel Simonet’s production design, are exceedingly handsome.