The Flying Scotsman

2006, Movie, PG-13, 0 mins


U.K. television director Douglas Mackinnon's feature debut turns the story of real-life Scottish cycling phenomenon Graeme Obree, who emerged from amateur obscurity in the early 1990s to break world speed records on a homemade bike, into a series of sports-movie cliches. It's a shame it's not a better movie, but its small virtues include an uncompromising performance by English actor Jonny Lee Miller, who fares better with a Scottish accent than when he plays American.

Mercilessly tormented as a child by the bullies who roamed his hardscrabble housing estate, Graeme Obree submerged his sorrows in the challenge and exhilarating speed of bike riding. As an adult, Obree runs a failing bike shop in a small Ayrshire town and works as a bike messenger to supplement the salary of his loyal wife, Anne (Laura Fraser), a nurse. Haunted by black depressions, Graeme still lives for cycling. But now he's got a goal: He wants to break the World Hour Record and painstakingly builds a better bike whose aerodynamics are rooted in his own observations as a devoted — some might say obsessive — amateur rider. Fellow messenger Malky McGovern (Billy Boyd) becomes his manager and local cleric Douglas Baxter (Brian Cox) provides emotional support, enabling Obree to take his "scrap and washing machine parts" bike to Norway, where he first fails and then succeeds in breaking the record. Ironically, winning makes Obree's life worse. There's a brief high: Sportswriters love his underdog story, as do fellow Scots, always looking for a peg on which to hang their fierce national pride. But the governing committee of the World Cycling Federation just plain doesn't like Obree — especially Ernst Hagemann (Steven Berkoff, who might as well have his business cards engraved "Professional Prick"), citing him constantly for frivolous infractions. Their vendetta helps drive him to attempted suicide before he seeks help and rises from his own ashes to again astonish the cycling world.

Obree's complex problems and inspiring achievements are inextricably linked, and Mackinnon's film doesn't really give this deeply human paradox its due. But while he tries not to lapse into the formula that has reduced sports films to white-hat/black-hat certitudes — Obree's fellow cyclists, for example, are the very model of good sportsmanship rather than hissable baddies, and there are no cliched training montages — the evenhandedness doesn't offset the film's fundamental dullness. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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