One For The Road
Saddled with a “journey on the road of life” theme that sounds as if it was voiced by Sam Elliott’s “Stranger” character from The Big Lebowski, One For The Road never seems to get past first gear. Not only does the voice-over set the slow tone in the opening sequence as Todd Ligare’s truck breaks down, it keeps reappearing throughout the movie, kind of like an engine knock that won’t be silenced. Coen Brothers homage, perhaps? With the beautiful opening shots of the vast Wyoming plains accentuating the horizontal lines in the camera’s frame combined with the dialed-down, muted colors (another Coen Brothers trick – See “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) you could be forgiven for thinking so. But even if TGR’s ambitions for OFTR were not so lofty, there’s no getting around the fact that the end result is still something akin to the slowdown at a border-crossing – you are moving but, jeez, it still feels like you’re going nowhere. While I have argued elsewhere that a ski movie’s framework should not get in the way of the film’s role in documenting the progress of the athletes, in the case of OFTR, these narrating elements sit like nasty speed bumps because there’s just no way around them.
The continuing insertion of the cowboy voice intoning timeless but trite platitudes about the meaning of life also has the effect of locating the action in someplace else besides the here and now. That’s disorienting because any regular viewer of ski movies is going to be emotionally invested in the skiers they know and follow. So when there’s an accident and Ian McIntosh falls off an Alaskan mountainside and completely snaps his femur, that disaster is going to have a little more impact for those viewers than is afforded by the cowboy narrator’s line that prefaces the scene: “You have to take the good with the bad because as they say when you’re on the top you have the longest way to fall.” Yes, there may be a life lesson to be gleaned here in a forest for the trees type of view point but there’s a whole lot more drama, adventure and “triumph over adversity” material that could have been mined (the details of how they got him off the mountain could have provided some riveting footage).
Add to this some other non-sequiturs like Erik Roner’s James Bond tribute (it’s not even a full segment) and you get an even more frustrating traffic jam of a movie, especially since the Bond stuff has been done over and over (and over and over) elsewhere including in ski movies (see McConkey’s Bond piece in Seven Sunny Days).
If the road had been cleared of this debris, OFTR would have been a smoother ride. Todd Jones and Blake Campbell know how to coax the best shots out of all the variables: the locations, the weather, the athletes, the helicopters and the dollies. Their cameras sneak up on the skiers as their descents commence and they follow the action to the end of the run, delivering all the thrills expected from a TGR movie. Last year’s 3D segment in Light The Wick was a cool add-on at the end of the film. This year’s ace-up-the-sleeve of the TGR crew is the Phantom camera which shoots at 1000 fps. Edit these shots in slow motion and they remain crystal clear. Sprinkle them throughout the movie and the result is a 3D-like effect that makes for sweet eye candy.
This is the first TGR movie in a long time that has not had Seth Morrison featured. While he’s missed, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and Ian McIntosh more than make up for his absence. Their damn-the-torpedoes skiing is as aggressive as ever. The real surprise, however, is Todd Ligare. In his previous two outings with TGR he got some good screentime but not a whole lot of it. In OFTR he’s been given an elevated profile when delivering brilliant sequences shot in Jackson Hole, Pemberton and finally Alaska. He’s exactly the all-out backcountry and big mountain skier that TGR is known for and it looks as if he’s going to have a strong place on this team. TGR regulars Dash Longe and Dylan Hood crush it too, as per usual.
This is not a ski movie that will bear repeated viewings but for the one time you do watch it the skiing will impress. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail