First up, I'm not a movie critic, I'm a cycling journalist. I make my living critiquing echelons and leadouts more than frame composition and the mise en scène of a film. So I'll try to confine my comments to the cycling content.
The film concentrates on building a narrative of Greenedge as a team building from humble beginnings with that strong Aussie flavour to the more cosmopolitan line-up that it is today. If you're familiar with the Backstage Pass series on YouTube, produced by Dan Jones, you will be familiar with most of the content of the movie, as well as its tone.
To its credit, the humour, larrikin-nature and irreverence that many devotees of the Backstage Pass will enjoy isn't lost in the movie. It's rare that a joke is told outright, the funny moments are found in the asides and the character moments that perfectly encapsulate the experience of the professional cyclist, poke fun or are even slapstick comedy. The premiere in Sydney was well-received, there was consistent laughter to accompany the on-screen antics.
The emotion of some of the key moments was also played well, I won't spoil the main plot points, but most that are familiar with the careers of Esteban Chaves and Mathew Hayman will be familiar with the story. Most of the new footage within the film centres around their journeys in the form of interviews.
That is what the film does really well, reigniting those moments of triumph so that fans of cycling can relive those moments of ecstasy. Everyone remembers that win of Milan San Remo by Simon Gerrans, that Tour de France where they just won the TTT, before Gerrans handed off yellow to Daryl Impey. These great moments are done justice by the film, and it never grows old as an Australian cycling fan to watch those monumental moments of sporting history.
I'll admit to having a big, stupid grin on my face while reliving those joyous occasions.
Ultimately it ends up in a feel-good yarn of the highs of Orica-Greenedge and the final achievement of certain individuals at the end of a long road of sacrifice and deprivation. It is nice to have a positive representation of the sport on the silver screen after years of Armstrong doping documentaries, dramatisations and even comedic farces.
That's not to say I don't have gripes.
First off, why was there no mention of the women's team? Greenedge has, to its credit, maintained a female squad alongside the men, more than most World Tour teams, but the lack of women on screen is very apparent. Rahna Gerrans, Sam Lane and Esteban Chaves' mum all have limited roles, perpetuating the myth that women are support figures rather than major players in the sport.
This certainly isn't an independent documentary. It's set up to put the Greenedge organisation in a good light and while it isn't an infomercial and there are a few juicy bits of confrontation and honesty in there, it deliberately veers away from confrontational questions. For instance, during the Matt Goss years, while no blame is laid directly at the Tasmanian's door, it includes a long section with him struggling at the back of the race saying that he can't be the team leader.
It tickles at the edges of diving into the story, which would be an interesting one, why didn't it work with one of the most successful sprinters in the world (Goss) and what lessons did they take from that when working with Simon Gerrans and later GC riders?
We are also presented with the riders that are the success stories of the Greenedge with little counterpoint. Yes, the mateship of the team and the culture of the squad worked for some, certainly the ones that stuck around, but Goss, Jack Bobridge, Cameron Meyer, etc. represent one of the finest generation of Australian cyclists... that arguably never reached their potential with the team.
If you're going into the film expecting a true fly-on-the-wall documentary, you'll be disappointed. If you go in looking for a celebration of Australian cycling and an appreciation of how tough racing is, you'll be very happy.
I can't speak for the average mainstream audience member, the film has sections that explain the basics of events and why 'X' is important in cycling, but there are also a lot of quick asides and funny moments with characters that are well-known within cycling but unlikely to make much sense to the broader public. There is plenty of 'crash porn' however for your lay-man, one particularly nasty moment with Mitch Docker from the 2016 Paris-Roubaix is not for the faint of heart.
Overall, I'm a bit conflicted about the experience. I came away not knowing much more than when I went in. It coalesced the public triumphs of Greenedge into the narrative of their life as a team, but the story would have been stronger if they'd tackled the problems within the squad more openly, rather than skirting around the issues.
Nonetheless, I'd certainly recommend it to all fans of Aussie cycling.