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An unabashedly sentimental sports flick that proudly wears its heart on its sweatband, Nils Tavernier’s The Finishers (De toutes nos forces) follows a father and his handicapped son as they join forces to participate in the grueling Ironman triathlon. Coasting from start to finish with only a few hiccups along the way, this rather one-dimensional drama offers little to chew on beyond the obvious, although there’s no denying a certain emotional weight that’s carried by the film’s two solid leads. Released late March in France, the Pathe-backed production won’t finish first at the box office, but should still find a wide enough audience to ensure continued ancillary play, especially in Francophone territories.
Inspired by the true exploits of Team Hoyt — a Massachusetts duo who have competed in dozens of races, with Dick Hoyt bringing along his cerebral palsy-stricken son, Rick — the action here shifts to southern France, where unemployed engineer, Paul (Jacques Gamblin), wiles away the hours at the local bar, avoiding his overbearing wife, Claire (Alexandra Lamy) and teenage boy, Julien (excellent newcomer Fabien Heraud), who suffers from CP and is bound to a wheelchair.
Frustrated by his father’s colossal failure to communicate, Julien boldly asks him to sign them up for the Ironman contest — which consists of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and a 26-mile marathon — to take place in Nice that summer. When Paul (who easily looks like he’s in his mid-50s) refuses, the ultra-persistent Julien keeps hounding him, getting his handicapped classmates to lobby on his behalf and even running away from home. Eventually his dad relents, and then it’s off to the races as The Finishers kicks into Rocky-style training mode (including a scene of the two watching the original Sylvester Stallone movie), until Paul and Julien arrive at the starting blocks for their backbreaking final challenge.
Written by Tavernier (who’s the son of French director Bertrand Tavernier, The Princess of Montpensier) along with Pierre Leyssieux and Laurent Bertoni, the scenario heads mostly to expected places, even if it gives the Julien character more nuance than in your typical afterschool movie, making him a crafty, stubborn adolescent who’s first seen spying on his naked neighbor with a telescope. Unfortunately, Julien’s parents feel like mere background ornaments, with Lamy (The Players) portraying a nagging worrywart with good intentions, and Gamblin (The Names of Love) playing a man so stoical he seems to have no thoughts at all.
Luckily the seasoned actor is in terrific shape, because once the father-son team gets into full workout mode, the movie picks up the pace and barely slows down until the two make their way towards the finish line. Staging the denouement during the actual Ironman event, Tavernier and DP Laurent Machuel (Paris-Manhattan) offer up some impressive set pieces in these later scenes, especially the sight of hundreds of athletes diving into the Mediterranean at the crack of dawn, with Paul tugging Julien behind him in an inflatable raft. The choice to score the action with tracks by Icelandic rockers Sigur Ros also adds some dramatic heft to the proceedings.
Yet despite an undeniably moving conclusion, The Finishers can’t help but feeling like a perfunctory treatment of an extremely tough topic: how parents cope with their handicapped children on a daily basis. In this case, Paul does so by trying pull off the impossible, bringing Julien and the rest of us along for the thrill ride. But what happens once the race is over and it’s time to come back home?
Production companies: Nord-Ouest Films, Pathe, Rhone-Alpes Cinema
Cast: Jacques Gamblin, Alexandra Lamy, Fabien Heraud, Sophie de Furst, Pablo Pauly
Director: Nils Tavernier
Screenwriters: Nils Tavernier, Pierre Leyssieux, Laurent Bertoni
Producers: Philip Boeffard, Christophe Rossignon
Executive producer: Eve Francois-Machuel
Director of photography: Laurent Machuel
Production designer: Jean-Michel Simonet
Costume designer: Fanny Drouin
Editor: Yann Malcor
Music: Bardi Johansson
Sales agent: Pathe International
No rating, 94 minutes
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