Review by Sean Boelman
Documentarian Alex Holmes’s (Maiden) newest documentary The Last Rider debuted at last year’s Telluride Film Festival, where it didn’t make much of a splash — and it’s understandable why. The story of The Last Rider is undeniably fascinating, but the filmmaking does it no favors.
The movie tells the story of professional cyclist Greg LeMond, who was the first and only American to win the Tour de France. A particular focus is put on LeMond’s second bid for the title — the 1989 race — in which he had to mount a massive comeback, overcoming challenges such as trauma, injury, and betrayal in his attempt to reclaim the most prestigious title in the sport.
There are some very weighty themes in this film, particularly as it relates to LeMond’s experiences as the survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Although it is understandably difficult for LeMond to talk about this, the level to which this storyline is effectively relegated to being a subplot feels somewhat reductive.
Perhaps Holmes’s biggest mistake was presenting LeMond’s story like any other underdog tale. The challenges that LeMond faced in his life were devastating, and it feels like Holmes takes them far too lightly here. All too often, the movie feels like it exploits LeMond’s trauma to inspire — and it’s frustrating.
Other aspects of the story also feel rather underdeveloped. Although LeMond’s underdog story is certainly inspiring and uplifting, the film also attempts to discuss his complex relationship with his fellow cyclists, such as teammate-turned-rival Laurent Fignon. Their inclusion in the story seems more out of necessity for conflict rather than natural storytelling.
The pacing of the movie also really leaves something to be desired. Holmes’s presentation manages to feel both enormously dry and unfocused at the same time. Although we are moving between tragic events in LeMond’s life at an almost startling rate, the film fails to really justify him reliving this trauma.
That said, Holmes has exceptional access to those involved in the story — including LeMond and his wife, along with his fellow racers Fignon and Perico Delgado. Still, it’s presented in a relatively straightforward combination of archive footage and talking head interviews, failing to keep viewers engaged in the story.
The Last Rider tells a story that is undeniably powerful, but the presentation simply isn’t all that interesting. Alex Holmes clearly has a propensity for finding extraordinary, inspiring stories — if only he had a propensity for telling them in a way that is as compelling as they deserve, he could make for a great documentarian.
The Last Rider is now playing in theaters.