The Film Of The Year Reviewed: Won’t Back Down – The Life And Times Of Steve Peat

Won’t Back Down

The Life And Times Of Steve Peat

Words by Mike Rose

Almost 40 years in the making, Won’t Back Down is the new film (that is due for release this spring) by Clay Porter and John Lawlor about living legend Steve Peat.

Where to start? I’ve watched this film twice now, and on both occasions I have been blown away by it. I come away thinking about all sorts of things – I feel better for it, I feel like I have learned something, and I feel that I’ve just been watching part of my life… well not my life, but we all live vicariously through Steve Peat… don’t we!? You know what I mean though. Peaty embodies all that is good about mountainbiking. Anyone who is a fan of downhill racing and this mag will have been through the highs and lows of Steve Peat’s career. Those moments of sheer joy, and plenty of moments of absolute pain.

My clearest memories are when he lost out on World Championship gold in both Sierra Nevada (by 0.5 sec) and Les Gets (a crash whilst miles in the lead). Those were two times when things in Peat’s life affected mine, and during the film I had goose bumps down my back on numerous occasions as I watched and re–lived both the painful and joyous occasions. I don’t mind admitting it but I was close to tears a couple of times (I think that comes with age), but the overall feeling was one of celebration. What Won’t Back Down does is take you right back there. It may have been ten years ago (in Les Gets’ case) but it feels like yesterday. It is weird because the film is a very personal story, but it is one that we can all relate to and that we can all feel part of.

In simple terms Won’t Back Down is a film made by Clay Porter and John Lawlor about the life and times of Steve Peat. Condensed into just under two hours we go from Peaty’s early days on a BMX in the back garden, right through to World Cup racing and ultimate World Championships glory… or as he puts it, “having fun, playing with my mates, with a bit of racing thrown in”.

Just in case you didn’t know, Steve Peat has helped shape mountainbiking for over 20 years, I have said it plenty of times before, but mountainbiking here in the UK (if not the world) would be nothing without Steve Peat. He’s not just a racer, he’s much more than that, he is the unofficial ambassador for all things MTB. His appeal in the sport is unrivalled, and just to put Steve Peat ‘the man’ into perspective, 2014 will be his twenty first year of racing, having wracked–up more men’s World Cup wins (17) than anyone else in the sport, and this year will also see him turn 40.

Won’t Back Down is a journey of highs and lows. Old footage from various sources (Eurosport, professional filmers, friend’s amateur handy cams, etc.) and photos are mixed in with ‘talking heads’ interviews from some of the biggest names in the sport… Rob Warner, Nigel Page, Rob Roskopp, Will Longden, Pete Tompkins, Andy Kyffin, Shaun Palmer, Dirt’s own Steve Jones (plus many others)… people that know Peaty well and have been there for him. They help to narrate and guide our way through his life, they tell us the story. It has obviously been a gargantuan task for Porter, Lawlor and their team. Just collating and searching through the years of footage, the hundreds of magazines and thousands of photos must have been never ending… never mind then having to bring all this material together to tell the story. This use of face to face interviews (here all shot simply in black and white) to link all the old footage together is not new, but it really works in this instance.

As mentioned, there are a whole raft of people involved, but out of all of these offering up opinion and insight it was Jim McRoy who stole the show for me, he is one of the stars of the film (OK, we can’t forget Rob Warner either). The father of the late and great Jason McRoy, he sacrificed everything to take his son racing. His story was heart–breaking and harrowing but was told with such calmness and humility. Jason McRoy was the first UK DH rider to get a pro deal and break into America, in doing so he helped shape the sport that we know today, he influenced and inspired a young Peaty (and many others) more than we may ever know. His untimely death in a motorcycle accident in 1995 had a huge effect on the fledgling UK downhill scene. McRoy will never be forgotten, and here we are reminded of how important he was to Peaty and his contemporaries.

So the mix of footage and interviews build the story. Things are not rushed, we begin to see a picture of Peaty forming. From the ‘Pinball Wizard’ and ‘Sketch Peat’ (lucky to get down the mountain in one piece) ‘boys on tour’ days of 1995, we move on to his first World Cup podium in Panticosa (Spain) in ’96, then when he almost took the title from Corrado Herin in ‘97, then his first World Cup victory in Snoqualmie in ’98, and then the on–going battle with ‘the little French guy’ Nico Vouilloz. People liked Peaty’s attitude of riding hard and then partying hard, he caught the attention like no one else. He was down to earth, one of the boys, and young riders could relate to him… a superstar in the making.

The film gathers momentum towards the defining moment, Peaty’s seemingly never ending and so often ill–fated search for World Championships gold and the rainbow stripes. This annual one–off race becomes a burden for Peaty, he was second on four occasions, many times losing out cruelly, but in racing there is no real time for sentimentality. We also get very personal (and surprising) insights from Peat’s own diary from the time, ‘Silver again… gutted beyond belief… what do I have to do”. We begin to get this image of a maturing and aging racer who seems to have missed his opportunity. It is the kind of stuff that Hollywood would love (that is if downhill wasn’t so niche).

Time and again Peaty is thwarted until one day in Australia… well you should already know the story. As he sits in the hot seat in the finish arena some of the close–in hand–held footage is intimate, almost stifling and private in the way that it has been filmed and edited, it is such a rare perspective that you genuinely don’t get to see in many other sports. The camera is right in there, in your face, the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye… the immense relief and joy, it is almost too painful to watch (even though we all know what happens). We see it all – the post–podium phone call home to his wife Adele and son Jake, then the late night thank you call–out in the car on the way back to the hotel. Lawlor was there to record it, “this was literally his first moment to himself with no one around congratulating him. He was reading texts from everyone back home and around the world and I think that was the moment that it hit home that he had finally done it. It was pretty special to be in that car with him right then. I was in tears myself”.

Lawlor, Porter and their team should be congratulated for what they have achieved here. Won’t Back Down is a kind of grown up MTB film but without being boring or losing the sport’s charm and appeal. It is no easy task trying to capture a person’s life, it’s mammoth undertaking. They have managed to create an atmosphere and momentum here where you feel carried along, you really feel like you are there in the moment. You can’t fail to be moved or inspired by this driven individual.

But this is much more than a simply blow by blow account of what happened, the film has real emotion in it, it takes you on a journey. And it is not just about Steve Peat, this is a film about downhill mountainbiking… in fact it feels like the history of our sport, especially here in the UK, and it just happens that it all revolves around a bloke from Sheffield. And the best bit? The fact that this story is not over yet, he is still going, this is a life in progress. Buy it.

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