2011-12-22 10:44:42+0000 - Nunavut, Canada

'Fastest'
Director: Mark Neale
Starring: Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner, Marco Simoncelli (RIP)
Pulling power * * * 1/2

UK filmmaker Mark Neale's fourth motorcycle documentary, Fastest, takes us on a racer's-eye view of the 215mph, adrenaline-pickled circuit of MotoGP world championship racing. Shot during the 2009 and 2010 MotoGP seasons, it covers essential moments in the sport from 2003 (where Neale's first MotoGP documentary, Faster, left off) to 2010.

Fastest bounces between the top riders, the tracks and the bikes, stitching in recollections, gossip, jokes and detailed insights from a great cast of characters - riders, techs, journalists, parents and track doctors among them.

A film to turn grandma into a MotoGP extremist
There's little air in this package. The concentrated realities of Grand Prix racing, an epic now over 60 years in the making, come at you as relentlessly as Laguna Seca raceway at speed.

The racing footage is sublime. Ultra slow-motion close ups of legendary battles and rapid fire cornering reveal everything - road bumps, rider collisions, mad rear wheel drifts and chassis-flexing turns in sphincter- tightening detail. Neale piles on the stats, off-cam voiceovers, talking heads and a generous helping of arty shots, all of it overlaid with a delightfully menacing musical groove.

Mr Ewan McGregor narrates with the same measured grittiness he put to good use in Faster, ensuring its sequel remains sweet on the ears, even for those not normally partial to the baying of 220 horsepower prototype bikes searing the track at velocities beyond those reached by Formula 1 cars.

It's largely Rossi's story - as it ought to be
Many times the film seems a paean to Valentino Rossi, back-dropped by his fight for a 10th world title during shooting. He's been in it so long that it could be no other way. He is a born killer on the track and a man awash in stardom, but according to his hometown fans, Rossi has remained humble. I'd add funny and likeable to that.

Rossi's overlarge mental strength lights up Neale's film. As does his unshakeable love of racing. It's astonishing that he has somehow kept his focus throughout his decade and a half on the GP circuit, racing almost every weekend eight months a year. Add to that his constant debriefs with engineers and tech people, the PR obligations and of course meeting his responsibilities to what must be a vast coterie of female admirers, and you have an accomplished, disciplined man who, at 32, has still got a lot of living ahead of him (knock wood).

Though, as serious injury and the ruthless aggression of new riders all begin to gnaw, the stress and pressure start to show on Rossi's normally smiling mug.

Stoner's weaknesses and strengths revealed
By way of contrast we meet several other riders, including, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Australia's Casey Stoner who recently upset Rossi's throne-hold to take the 2011 MotoGP championship (after the film was completed). Stoner is portrayed as something of a wuss. At one stage he has a mysterious breakdown, retiring mid-season for several months due to lactose intolerance, of all things.

Even if that truly was what ailed the man, one wonders why his people didn't come up with something a little meatier sounding - bitten by a tiger snake while motocrossing in the outback, perhaps.

But he does come back swinging once he's sorted himself, and that fact is not ignored in the movie.

And then there's the crumpet
The film occasionally addresses the females in the lives of GP racers. McGregor deadpans a classic line while discussing Randy De Puniet's track performance: 'De Puniet's ultra-fast qualifying laps are a tribute to his bravery… and perhaps to the testosterone-boosting powers of his Australian girlfriend, Lauren Vickers.' At that, we cut to a shot of Ms Vickers in a Playboy bunny costume that does much to flatter her.

Another choice quote comes from Dr Claudio Costa, chief medic on the circuit and a charismatic old philosopher who's been rebuilding MotoGP riders for decades. As we witness Rossi's leg-mangling crash at the Italian Grand Prix, followed by a painful but triumphant return to racing just over a month later, Dr Costa declares, 'In this world the rider smiles when he confronts a fatal incident or drama. That is the beautiful thing, because life has meaning only when it stares death in the face.'

I wish my doctor came out with stuff like that.

Curiosity duly rewarded
As Neale's film winds out, it takes us literally into the nuts and bolts of those injuries, the crashes that cause them and the reasons for those crashes. The film does a first-rate job of unwrapping the science behind MotoGP motorcycles, covering engines, chassis, tires, aerodynamics and rider technique.

The disc's extra features are also well worth a look, giving backstories on Rossi and others, as well as more engineering talk for the unquenchably curious. Through various insiders, we're shown how each rider's tech crew is continuously working to solve a set of physics problems that vary with weather, location, riding style and the rules that govern the game.

Nod to Marco
The late Marco Simoncelli makes several appearances in Fastest. There's a scene where he recalls a bad crash he had at Sepang, Malaysia in 2009, which eerily anticipates his death on the same track two years later. The film was already set to go when Simoncelli was killed in October 2011, yet Neale manages to squeeze in a respectful dedication at its end.

I offer maximum praise to Fastest. Though chaotic in the way it moves along, so is MotoGP. Sure, you have to really pay attention to stay with it, but Neale's technique keeps you wired to the story all the way through. It's pretty hard to conceive of a better way to set it down.

Find me fastest: http://EatSleepRIDE.com/rider/champers

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