Off Topic: DVD: The Free Ride
Normally, when I do an off-topic post about a DVD or book release, it is in the form of a review. But, in the interest of full disclosure, this will be less partial than a review since I volunteered during filming, was an extra in a closing scene, and am good friends with several of the cast and crew.
Many stories can be told in twenty rhyming lines and four minutes. A few cannot. For those, the incipient potential in the independent Christian film movement has intrigued me for several years. I have reviewed two here before, The Runner from Ravenshead and The Widow’s Might. Both of those have been nominated for Best Feature Film in the leading Christian film festival, the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. (Last year, The Widow’s Might won the Best of Festival prize.) The Free Ride, released by Sanctum Entertainment, is one of the nominees this year.
The story centers around a former professional bicycle racer who was evicted from the sport after using performance-enhancing drugs, and his son who is dying from a rare disease (for which the only treatment is one his now-unemployed father cannot afford). The father is offered the chance to take part in a race with a cash prize that would pay for the treatment.
The story is well crafted, accessible, and, crucially, coherent. While some films feel overly episodic (incidentally, the largest reason I did not feature The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry here), this film’s scenes flow smoothly together into a single, compelling narrative.
Virtually all the actors, including the two main characters, were amateurs. But the writer/director knew he would likely be working with amateurs, so he wrote fewer of the emotionally charged scenes one finds in other films. But in those scenes that require passion and emotion, the actors pull off believable performances—and the story is strong enough that it doesn’t need good acting to carry a weak narrative.
(Spoiler alert) I will admit to a bias for movies with happy endings, and this movie has an ending that brings to mind It’s a Wonderful Life. So if you’re looking for a depressing film where everyone ends up dead or hating each other, look elsewhere. (End spoiler alert) The film is family-friendly, with none of the language or nudity that poisons run-of-the-mill secular releases. The only thing I noticed that would raise a few eyebrows would be the main character’s cigarette use at the start of the film; this is presented as a flaw in what starts out as a very flawed character, and is (visually, though not verbally) resolved later in the film.
The Free Ride is a heartwarming family film that I am delighted to recommend.