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‘The Last Race’ (review)

Produced by Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Directed by Michael Dweck
Featuring Jim Cromarty, Barbara Cromarty,
Tim Mulqueen, Pastor Scott Kraniak

 

The Last Race is a documentary featuring Riverhead Raceway on Long Island.

It’s a sad film.

Stock car racing actually started on Long Island in 1927. Since then, many race tracks have come and gone. Riverhead is the lone remaining holdout, owned by octogenarians, on land worth millions of dollars.

One might say Michael Dweck’s minimalist storytelling is tragically romantic as he paints a portrait of weekend blue collar gear-heads, living for their hand built buckets of bolts making eternal left turns as they go round and round the quarter mile short track.

The story of Riverhead Raceway is the people, but the viewer doesn’t get a clear picture of who the people are. The owners are old, very very old. They are very very tired and the land they own under the race track is worth many many millions. The drivers are blue collar. They build their own cars. They passionately race them, but the clearest and most poignant images between the drivers are images of conflict as they yell at each other and violently clash over slights that take place on the track. It’s sad.

The film is artfully shot, with long views decent, if truncated racing footage and strong visuals. There are specifically some extended shots of people sitting on porches or standing by their cars looking at the camera in an homage to early filmmaking when no one really knew what to do in front of a camera, or perhaps some throwback to dust bowl depression photos of dirty people with despair in their eyes.

The romance is lost on me.

To be fair to Dweck and cinematographer Gregory Kershaw, I am a tough audience. I am not enthralled by auto-racing. I don’t get excited at the thought of boring out headers to make the car run faster or even something as simple as changing my own oil. I am more than willing to get interested in something I wasn’t interested in before, but I need the effort of the film maker to get me there. I didn’t feel it. The whole film seemed perfunctory and devoid of passion.

If the story is about the cars, there wasn’t enough footage of the racing. If the story is about the people I didn’t care about a single one of them by the time the movie was over, even the elderly owners, who were like-able enough but generally devoid of any passion for the track.

The real estate development value of the story may have been the most interesting part but it felt glossed over as if somehow the owners we heroes for eschewing millions to keep the racing going another year.

Why? Did they owe some debt to the history of stock cars? Did they feel an obligation to the racing community since they are the last track standing on Long Island? I don’t know. It was never made clear to me. Since it wasn’t clear I didn’t care.

At 74 minutes it is pretty clear Dweck was going with some sort of less is more vibe, but the end result was tired, kind of boring and missing anything that would make a viewer feel passionate about the subject.

2 out of 5 stars

 

The Last Race is now available on DVD and On Demand

 

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