- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

Though lesser known on these shores, Graeme Obree is something of a legend in his native Scotland. The amateur cyclist shocked the sporting world in 1993, when he appeared seemingly out of nowhere to break the world hour record on a bike pieced together from washing machine parts and scrap metal.

While director Douglas Mackinnon’s “The Flying Scotsman” pays homage to this and other feats that Mr. Obree accomplished in his athletic career, the film is more than just feel-good sports fare. It also serves as a reminder that the quest for greatness often springs not from equanimity, but inner tumult.

Loosely based on the athlete’s memoir, the movie shows its protagonist being roughed up by bullies as a child. He’s given a bike one Christmas, and this tool for escape — and escapism — transports him safely to adulthood, where we see him running a fledgling cycle shop.

As a grown-up, he’s still got demons, though. Despite being surrounded by a loving wife (Laura Fraser) and baby, a generous pastor (Brian Cox) and a willing accomplice, Malky (Billy Boyd), sometimes he only hears the voices taunting him inside his head. Winning is the only thing that makes him feel valuable, but his inner critic, his lack of corporate sponsors and the racing officials that begin to take issue with his unorthodox methods are all working against him.

The versatile and very fit Jonny Lee Miller (“Afterglow,” “Trainspotting”) plays the adult Graeme, once again proving his prowess with the Scottish brogue (he’s English). The character is difficult to relate to, though, which makes the actor’s task more challenging. In a way, this on-screen Graeme is everyman, a commoner who racks up uncommon accomplishments — but his relentless obsession with winning and suicidal tendencies keep him at arm’s length from the audience.

“Scotsman’s” screenwriters relieve some of this darkness with lighter, more grounded supporting players. While his priestly role seems a bit contrived (and is, in fact, fictional), Mr. Cox brings a sweet fatherly warmth to the tale, and Graeme’s best buddy Malky (an amalgam of people in the real-life cyclist’s life) is a fun but obvious buoy; he’s likeable and fiercely loyal. It’s OK that these supporting characters are a bit too transparent, because — for the most part — they’re well-written and make for a more well-rounded film.

Regardless of how (un)sympathetic the protagonist may be, he’s easy to root for in the film’s wonderfully breathless shots on the indoor racing track. Colors and people blur together in one dizzying spin cycle of failure and triumph, with a man who time and time again pushes himself to his bodily limits. That’s almost always worth applauding.

**1/2

TITLE: “The Flying Scotsman”

RATING: PG-13 (for some mildly violent scenes, dark themes and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Douglas Mackinnon. Written by John Brown, Declan Hughes and Simon Rose.

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

WEB SITE: www.mgm.com/theflyingscotsman/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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