Belfast Telegraph

Road movie: High-speed tale of Dunlops is a roaring success

By Andrew Johnston

The 14th Belfast Film Festival roared off the grid last night with the world premiere of bike racing documentary, Road.

Members of Northern Ireland's revered Dunlop family were in attendance to see their late relatives Joey and Robert tear up the screen.

But the film is as much about Robert's sons William and Michael -- champion riders in their own right -- who have kept the Dunlop legacy going.

Road takes us from Joey discovering his love of bikes in Armoy in the 1970s to William taking first place in the 2008 North West 200, two days after his father was killed on the same circuit.

The film is narrated by acting heavyweight Liam Neeson, but the twists and turns of the Dunlop tale need little help from the Ballymena-born star's portentous tones to grab attention.

It might be hard for casual observers to comprehend what drives men to risk serious injury or even death in the name of sport, but this risk seems central to the appeal.

"If motorcycle racing was not dangerous, I suspect most of them would not do it," opines veteran pundit Murray Walker, one of many interviewees.

William, meanwhile, is even more blunt: "If something was to happen. I don't care," he shrugs early on in the movie.

And it doesn't appear to be bravado. These are tough, tough people, unreconstructed in their matter-of-fact approach to their craft.

There is some talk of "spiritual satisfaction" and "rural heritage", but it may not even be that deep: they do it because they love it -- for fun.

It was so much fun for Joey and Robert that they kept racing well into their 40s, like ageing rock stars compelled to keep on touring.

But if something goes wrong on stage, the likes of Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney don't go smashing into a wall at 200mph. And with grim inevitability, Road arrives at the Dunlop brothers' deaths.

The tragic events are covered in unflinching detail, but the film succeeds in persuading the viewer not to be sad -- that they died doing what they loved.

Much of the film's watchability comes from the duo's fascinating personalities -- Joey, the humble, quiet man who thought nothing of driving his van to Estonia on his days off to deliver food to orphanages -- and Robert, the outwardly cocky, inwardly quite tortured soul.

Visually, Road excels, with thrilling point-of-view shots from onboard the bikes and clever split-screen moments, positioning Robert in 1992 next to son Michael 20 years later.

The horrendous sound of the crashes and the plain speaking of the various interviewees mean Road is often as striking to listen to as to watch.

With the story playing out like a Greek tragedy, you don't need to be a racing fan to enjoy Road, but if you are, Michael's win in 2008 will be worth seeing again on the big screen.

Indeed, the whole thing is a glorious cinematic experience.

Produced and directed by Diarmuid Lavery and Michael Hewitt of DoubleBand Films, Road delivers guts, glory, racing worthy of a Fast And Furious film and characters as compelling as anything Hollywood could dream up.

Five stars

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