×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Being AP’

Anthony Wonke's portrait of a champion horse-racing jockey feels like equal parts hagiography and harrowing rehab story.

With:
Anthony McCoy, Chanelle McCoy, Dave Roberts.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3916100/

“Pain is temporary, losing is permanent,” grumbles record-setting jump jockey Tony “A.P.” McCoy in “Being AP,” a fitfully insightful sports doc that’s as much about the trials of winning as the triumph. Following McCoy during his 20th and final year atop the horse-racing world — out of 21 seasons total, an incredible run — director Anthony Wonke finds a difficult figure whose obsession with winning explains both his dominance on the track and his pathology off it. Reading at times like slick hagiography and at others like the harrowing rehab story of an adrenaline addict, “Being AP” feels like the work of an official biographer who went a little bit rogue. It stands to play best in territories where McCoy is a household name, but the cable-ready package should be attractive to sports networks outside the U.K., too.

Though McCoy notched more than 4,000 wins in his workaday career, Stateside racing fans might not appreciate the enormity of his achievement until they see him in action. McCoy was a jockey in the National Hunt, a form of racing that requires riders to guides their horses over hurdles and other obstacles as they make their way around the track. And naturally, the horses sometimes get caught in the scrum or suffer a hitch in the timing and it’s the jockeys who pay the price, tumbling to the dirt and frequently getting trampled by their horse or a competitor’s. An early scene in “Being AP” runs down the dozens of injuries McCoy has sustained over the years: shattered ribs, punctured lungs, and breaks in his collarbone, his shoulder, his right arm, his sternum, and virtually every other area of his body. (It follows that concussions would also be a serious issue, but that avenue goes largely unexplored.)

McCoy’s decision to retire after pursuing his 20th year as the top jump jockey in the field came as a happy surprise to the filmmakers, who contrast his rigorous commitment to winning with his extreme reluctance to go quietly into that last good night. On the racing front, McCoy combines a veteran’s craftiness and feel for the horses with a high threshold for pain that keeps him performing where other athletes might take more time to heel. Those seemingly arbitrary record numbers — the 4,000-win mark, the mark for most winningest season — dangle in front of him like a carrot on a stick and he can’t stop himself from going after them. At home, his wife Chanelle worries over his short- and long-term health and his ability to help take care of their young son, but she also insists that the decision to leave the sport must come from him.

That doesn’t mean Chanelle has no opinion on the matter, however. In the doc’s most riveting scene, her raising of the issue over lunch gets an explosive response from McCoy, who’s so incensed by the suggestion of retirement that he can’t bring himself to eat. Such moments of dramatic candor are rare in “Being AP,” but even McCoy’s more chewed-over soundbites reveal how much the sport has consumed his life and his sense of self-worth. It’s a common phenomenon among elite athletes, who perhaps only reach the top of their game because their obsession with winning is all-consuming. But it also makes McCoy a surprisingly dull and withholding subject, because self-reflection doesn’t come naturally to him. He’s forever chasing that carrot on the stick.

“Being AP” excels, however, when it shows McCoy on the job. Compared to the sleek thoroughbreds that chase after the Triple Crown every year, a National Hunt race has the rush of a free-for-all, with the obstacles breaking up the field in ugly, dramatic tumbles. Wonke holds off on getting a full view of a race until McCoy’s career is heading down the backstretch, but it’s a powerful reminder of how much the jockey has risked everyday in his relentless quest for glory. There’s likely a more contentious documentary to be made about McCoy’s transition to life after the sport, but the doc pays proper homage to his accomplishments as an athlete.

To that end, cinematographers Tom Elliott, Neil Harvey, and Andrew Thompson lend the racing sequences a gripping immediacy and give the off-track footage with an appealing gloss. The lensing is so commercial, in fact, that the pic’s darker insights about McCoy’s character have the power of subterfuge.

Film Review: ‘Being AP’

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs), Sept. 12, 2015. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — U.K.-Ireland) A Moneyglass Films, Partizan Films and Roads Entertainment production in association with BBC Films, the Irish Film Board, Northern Ireland Screen, and the British Horse Racing Authority/ Great British Racing. (International sales: HanWay Films, London.) Produced by Alan Maher, Richard Moore, Nick Ryle, John Woollcombe. Executive producers, Georges Bermann, Simon Ford, Phil Hunt, Joe Oppenheimer, Chrstine Langan, Keith Potter, Compton Ross, Madeleine Sanderson.

Crew: Directed by Anthony Wonke. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Tom Elliott, Neil Harvey, Andrew Thompson; editor, Paul Carlin, Kevin Konak; music, Andrew Phillips; sound, Timothy Watts, Andrew Yarme; re-recording mixer, Mark Henry.

With: Anthony McCoy, Chanelle McCoy, Dave Roberts.

More Film

  • Greek Director Probes Deeper Issues in

    Greek Director Probes Deeper Issues in Berlin Festival Film 'Sargasso Sea'

    After a sudden suicide turns a small eel-farming town upside down, an investigation unearths troubling secrets about the town’s past. Those discoveries will bring together two women trapped in solitary lives, offering each a chance to find salvation. “The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea” is the third feature by Greek director Syllas Tzoumerkas. Starring frequent [...]

  • Xavier Legrand Custody

    France's Cesar Awards Leads the Way for the Oscars

    Since 2011, France’s Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma has steadfastly held its annual awards ceremony the Friday before the Academy Awards. And if launching the Césars two days before the Oscars holds a real, practical benefit — allowing those walking both red carpets time to linger over their last flutes of Champagne before [...]

  • Australian Director Gameau Challenges Audiences to

    Australian Director Gameau Challenges Audiences to Improve the Planet

    Bright-eyed Australian director Damon Gameau set out in his previous movie, “That Sugar Film” to challenge everyday thoughtlessness about the dangers of our modern lifestyle — and became profoundly sick while doing so. In his new film “2040,” which plays in Berlin’s Generation Kplus section and which he styles as a “hybrid feature documentary,” Gameau [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    Writers Guild Sends Hollywood Agents Proposed Code of Conduct

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent Hollywood talent agencies a proposed “Code of Conduct” with tough new restrictions on how they operate as agents for writer clients. The WGA made the disclosure Thursday night in an email to its 12,000 members, a day after announcing that it will hold a March 25 [...]

  • Best Score Nominee Alexandre Desplat Is

    Best Score Nominee Alexandre Desplat to Skip Oscar Ceremony

    Best score nominee Alexandre Desplat will be unable to attend Sunday’s Oscar ceremonies because of recent throat surgery, a rep for the composer confirms. The French native, already a two-time Oscar winner (for 2014’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” and 2017’s “The Shape of Water”), is nominated this year for his Japanese-flavored score for Wes Anderson’s “Isle [...]

  • Space Jam

    'Space Jam 2' Gets Summer 2021 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has set a July 16, 2021, date for its live-action/animated sports comedy “Space Jam 2,” starring LeBron James. Terence Nance, creator of the HBO show “Random Acts of Flyness,” is directing the sequel. His credits include “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” “Swimming in Your Skin Again,” and “Univitellin.” The movie marks James’ first [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content