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I first became aware of this movie when I read about it Won The MySpace Award for Best Documentary at the Newport Beach Film Festival. I saw it at The Valley Film Festival where it too Won Best Documentary and was pleasantly surprised at what I saw. I went in because I thought I was going to see a movie of off-road race trucks (which there was plenty of) but was quickly brought into a very personal story of three men taking on something that was much much bigger then they were, The famed race known as The Baja 1000. It starts out with Jeff Lloyd a kind of mans man with a lust for life and cocktails who has always dreamed of being an off-road racer since he was a child even though he really never had a childhood. He says that his mother committed suicide in front of him when he was a young boy and spent most of his young life homeless. He decides now that he has become successful in business that he wants to race the Baja 1000 (which is a race I have also followed for many years) but does not know exactly how to go about doing it. So he finds an old ex-con named Milo who has spent years around racing to help him get the new team underway. Milo who looks like he may have been a Hells Angels member starts to build a race truck with his "sort of" son Toby who is a plumber by trade. What we quickly discovered is that things start to go wrong from the get go. The truck seems to take much more time then they thought to build and they end up having no time to do a thorough test to see if it will hold up for the 1000 mile race they have ahead of them. The real story is unleashed as they run into many problems both mechanically and emotionally as they go to Mexico and enter the race. I found that the film was a constant ride of ups and downs. It felt like it was a very true experience of what it must be like to be part of this sport. I also got really caught up with the three guys and there own journey of how they dealt with the stress and excitement that was coming at them moment by moment. There was a lot of great race footage shot deep in the Baja and I must admit that even though it seemed to be something that has got to be an all out brutally hard thing to do I now want to race this race more then ever. I think this is one of those films that really captured the inner workings of a new race team and even though I have seen some videos on this subject I have never seen it done like this. This could end up being a classic film on this sport.
Chasing the Horizon is one of the best documentaries you will see this year. Ostensibly about one man's pursuit of racing in the Baja 1000, the film is actually an incredible character study of people from different walks of life who come together in an attempt to realize a collective dream. The drama of assembling a team, building a car from scratch and getting it into the kind of shape necessary for racing one thousand miles off-road is really compelling. The Canter Brothers deftly capture the action and emotion with skilled camera work and an informed eye for finding the drama of the real life situations. They really convey on film the sense of urgency and struggle the lead character and his team are facing as they encounter obstacle after obstacle. And it's all set against a panoramic backdrop of the race, where so many teams just theirs are down to compete and try and win (or even just finish) the arduous race that usually sees less than 1/3 of the entrants actually cross the finish line. The race footage is great too! I have seen this film three times, and was present when it won the Audience Award in Newport Beach. It's a real crowd pleasing piece of work and testament to the Canter Brothers formidable skill as writer/directors. We will be doubtless be seeing much more of these guys and their films in the coming years. If you get a chance to rent Chasing the Horizon, do it. You will enjoy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Exciting documentary about an unlikely team of semi-lunatics, three
guys who want to win the Baja 1000 off-road race on their very first
try. And with a vehicle they build from scratch that still isn't
running right just a couple of days before they must head for Ensenada.
To enjoy this adventure film, you'd be well advised to check your higher-minded values at the theater door. (I'm addressing this to anybody who esteems environmentalism, thrift, wise uses of time and energy, or moderation of any sort.) This movie is an exercise in profligate spending, flaring tempers, beer guzzling, danger and barely controlled chaos. But it's also about excitement, camaraderie, family ties, dreams and heart. And it is this curious mix that comes off as charming and thoroughly absorbing.
"The Flying Canter Brothers," as the co-directors like to bill themselves, like off-road racing and had met Jeff Lloyd at an earlier race. Lloyd had made plenty of money selling LA real estate and took up auto racing to be involved in an activity that would bring him and his teen kids together in a series of adventures they would recall all their lives. After a few successes, the expansive Lloyd began to dream of the Baja 1000, considered the toughest off-road race on the planet. He met up with a genuine geezer, a cantankerous old guy with a Santa Claus beard, Milo Brown, who had built cars at his junkyard but never one that might withstand the hazards of the Baja. Milo and a friend of his, Toby O'Mara, an unemployed plumber who chain smokes and toils endlessly, proceed to build a vehicle commissioned by Lloyd.
The arc of this story spans the last few weeks before the race, the family get together, partying and other pre-race doings in Ensenada, and Lloyd and Toby's experience during the race itself. The Canters and Lloyd arrive at Milo's garage to find only the frame of a chassis with nothing mounted on it. The Canters establish an easy rapport with the team and employ hand held cameras to capture in verité style the strains, pains and occasional triumphs of the three men, as the deadline for the race moves relentlessly closer while the completion and testing of the vehicle appear to remain steadfastly remote. The drama of this movie lies partly in the resulting tension: can these guys possibly get their act together in time?
But the real joy of this movie is its character driven structure. It feels like we get to know these three men intimately. We increasingly share their passion, chuckle at their idiosyncrasies, worry when things go wrong or tempers flare or time seems to be running out. Best of all we see how the personalities of these fellows complement one another. The contributions of each are distinctive: Jeff Lloyd supplies money (over $100K, he gripes) and a proper mix of bonhomie and impatience. Ex-con Milo does rise to Jeff's challenges, but only to a point, for his temperament is somewhat brittle, his frustration tolerance limited. Toby struggles to be the peacemaker and enabler, working night and day to solve mechanical problems, long after Milo is too exhausted to continue. They all share a common dream, of course, and they are equally stubborn in pursuing it.
What happens during the race, you ask? Hey, that would be a spoiler. Besides, it's the people and their preparations that grip you. Mason Canter was present at the screening I attended. He's congenial and engaging. It's easy to see why Lloyd's team embraced him. He says the team plans to race the Baja 1000 again. My grades: 8/10 (high B+) (Seen at the Idaho International Film Festival, 09/29/06)
The biggest beef I have with this movie is with the post-production and sound sweetening. Who was responsible for the annoying rock & roll sound track throughout the film? I realize the target audience is young males but the music is incessant and starts to become Chinese water torture after awhile. Also, the audio levels were all over the place and I frequently couldn't hear what some people were saying either because they weren't potted up enough or they were drowned out by the music track being too hot. The post-production is almost at a student-film level quality. What a missed opportunity, because all the elements for a good documentary were there(dramatic story & competent camera work), it just wasn't supported by the post-production effort.
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