The following was commissioned by Culture Fly
Just after the opening credits of Mo Farah: No Easy Mile, Lord Sebastian Coe states that Mo’s story is about the success of immigration. If Joe Pearlman wants to explore immigration in his documentary, then he has failed. The film is too pedestrian, too predictable and too plain. It abandons the interesting stuff and feels like it is leaving things unsaid. The film doesn’t perform like the world-class runner who inspires it. It’s more like watching 13-year-olds struggling to run the 1500m.
It is clear this documentary is not worthy of getting the Mobot. Mo makes for an interesting protagonist. The film tracks his story through his arrival in the UK, his blossoming relationship with his wife, Tania, to his second double gold in Rio. The man has led a life that opens many avenues to explore. But, Pearlman is only interested in exploring one — the path to success.
It is disappointing he benches the A-game material at half time. The fascinating immigration narrative, and the outsider status it lends Mo, is told but not felt. His school years are pretty much skipped. All that matters is that he was a quick runner and he met his wife. The isolation he felt is briefly acknowledged but never interrogated. The ‘why’ is never mentioned.
There’s no doubt that the most powerful part of the movie is when the quadruple-Olympic-gold medalist returns to Djibouti. Watching a man who has international fame face the idea that chance has played a huge role in his life, when he has worked so hard to get where he is, is devastating. Seeing him interact with his brother, who was left in Africa, presents Mo as a family man. The film pains to paint him this way, often reminding you of the sacrifices he does for his family.
Then, it undercuts itself by suggesting his most devastating moment was finishing with a silver medal instead of a gold. The sports narrative would be gripping if it wasn’t presented as if it was the visual version of a shopping list. Mo gets beat. He trains harder. He moves to America. The impact his dedication and determination has on his family is fleetingly explored. They are a pragmatic bunch, but the stresses their lifestyle places on them isn’t mentioned.
Their pragmatism is one of the reasons for the film’s faults; the Farah family is so nice, the interviewees are so nice, that the drama is missing. Pearlman wants it to arise from the sports narrative, but knowing the outcome of Mo’s career deflates any drama. The reason the sports narrative approach works in documentaries on Mike Tyson, Ayrton Senna and Mohammed Ali, is because their subjects are larger than life. Mo isn’t riotous. He isn’t a hell-raiser. He is inoffensive, kind and good company. His film is similar, but when your lowest moment is not winning a race and the loss doesn’t have lasting ramifications on your life, then it really isn’t engaging.
Mo Farah: No Easy Mile is out on DVD and Digital Download from 5 December 2016