Film Review: ‘Being AP’

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

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Once Upon a Time

    Leonardo DiCaprio's Earth Alliance Commits $5 Million to Amazon Fires

    Earth Alliance, an environmental initiative backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, has committed $5 million toward the preservation of the Amazon rain forest following an alarming surge in wildfires. After launching Sunday, the organization’s emergency Amazon Forest Fund is working to support local partners and indigenous communities in their efforts to protect the sensitive habitats within the [...]

  • (from left) Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson)

    Box Office: 'Hobbs & Shaw' Scores $102 Million Debut in China, Nears $600 Million Globally

    Universal’s “Hobbs & Shaw” returned to first place on the international box office charts, thanks to a massive $102 million debut in China. The “Fast & Furious” spinoff, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, collected another $120 million overseas, boosting its foreign tally to $441 million. “Hobbs & Shaw” is nearing the $600 million mark [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    Box Office: 'Angel Has Fallen' Rises to No. 1 With $21 Million Debut

    “Angel Has Fallen,” the third chapter in Lionsgate and Millenium’s action franchise starring Gerard Butler, had a stronger opening weekend than expected, collecting $21.25 million during its first three days of release. Those ticket sales were enough to top domestic box office charts, bumping last weekend’s champ, Universal’s comedy “Good Boys,” to second place. Starring [...]

  • Amanda

    ‘Amanda’ Takes Home Best Int’l Film at 15th Sanfic

    SANTIAGO, Chile    French director Mikhael Hers’ “Amanda” scooped up the Best Int’l Film award Saturday (Aug. 24) at the 15th Santiago Int’l Film Fest (Sanfic), which reported a 20% audience uptick in the past two years and continues to grow its reputation as the most vibrant and prominent film festival in Latin America’s Southern [...]

  • disney d23

    Cruella, Kit Harington and Black Panther's Return: Everything We Learned at D23 Day Two

    Not to be outdone by the avalanche of series orders and casting announcements bolstering the new streaming series Disney Plus, Walt Disney Studios showed off its film wares in a marathon presentation at D23 on Saturday. The Anaheim, Calif. expo brought star power, if perhaps fewer surprises than Friday’s presentation, as fans in princess and [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift'The

    Taylor Swift Downplays Association With Harvey Weinstein

    Taylor Swift’s association with disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was among the topics the singer addressed in a revealing new interview with The Guardian. Weinstein held producer credits for the movies “One Chance” and “The Giver,” both of which featured Swift — in the former, a song, and in the latter, a supporting role. She [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content