Strength in Numbers (2012)

11 Sep


I had hoped that this film might find enough common ground to transcend its core audience as so much quality documentary cinema has done, but Strength in Numbers failed to do this. Were I someone who could be satisfied with mountain biking, picturesque landscapes and endless slow motion shots of riders mid-trick, I would have enjoyed the film immensely. Unfortunately I found it at best, mediocre, and at its worst it rage inspiring. Almost every single minute of this film was a minute I hated. Here’s why:

The film was funded by the good people at Red Bull, which is probably why the film plays out like an extended commercial. If we know anything about advertising, it is that they have long since stopped selling us actual products and instead sell us “lifestyles”: and boy what a lifestyle these riders lead! They travel to the edge of the earth, finding the most beautiful and diverse locations so that they can put their bikes on top of these locations and then go down really fast (this may seem a reductive way to characterise the sport, but considering the film made no effort to actually discuss any technical facet of mountain biking to its audience, I feel it is accurate). This effect of this globe-trotting seems to be an overwhelming sense of smugness among the bikers themselves: while we get college degrees and work from nine to five, they’ve managed to “live the dream” (I wish I were making this up). They get to be “extreme”, as indicated by the soundtrack, which includes a range of artists such as Rage Against the Machine, Jefferson Airplane, and some vague acoustic guitar music, attempting to present the kind of diversity the bikers themselves lack.

Interspersed amongst this dirge are black and white title cards that read out quotes from famous people throughout history – Abraham Lincoln, Adlai Stevenson, H.G. Wells – whose only real connection is that they have at some point in their otherwise fruitful lives said something vaguely enlightened sounding enough to put in this documentary. Who knew that words of Baha ‘u’ llah, creator of the Bahai faith, could be so relevant to today’s extreme sports?


By Tessa Clews


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