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Terry (2005)

by on 2010/07/20

Terry Fox wanted the public to share in his intentions, not idolize his name.  So goes the story in this 2005 television movie, the second biopic since the Canadian hero’s death in 1981, at the age of 22.  Such facts and figures hardly make for a compelling narrative though.  As with the wags who dismissed Titanic, foreknowing its end, there are viewers who will doubtlessly do likewise with Terry.  Perhaps they don’t remember 1980, or simply weren’t born yet; they can’t imagine the surge of admiration that celebrated Fox’s exceptional, selfless effort.  Yet despite its scripted humility, this film is one with a focus on the person; it bears a familiar first name, the charms of its cast and characters, and a tale more affecting than most Hollywood romances.

Terry tells the true story of the young man who pledged to run across Canada, despite having lost one of his legs to cancer.  Initially, he hoped to raise a million dollars for charity.  In the early part of his Marathon of Hope, that goal seemed frustratingly distant but with time and fame, circumstances led him to change that goal to over twenty million dollars, or one dollar per Canadian.

Shawn Ashmore, of Smallville and X-Men fame, portrays Terry Fox with a good-natured determination.  Supported throughout by his careful best friend Doug Alward (Ryan McDonald), he is later joined by his impulsive brother Darrell (Noah Reid) and tireless publicist Bill Vigars (Matt Gordon).  Catherine Disher (Life with Derek) and David Huband (The Newsroom) round out the core cast as Terry’s mother and father.

While the audience drawn to the assembled talent may not have lived through the era, Terry does a great job of recreating the look and feel of a Canadian 1980.  Everything — including sets, vehicles, props, and grooming — evokes Terry’s time in quaint verisimilitude:  gym bags, cameras, microphones, pay phones . . . even petty cash for the pre-Loonie set.

The soundtrack works well, too, with appropriate numbers scattered throughout:  the Diodes’ “Tired of Waking Up Tired”, Rush’s “Limelight”, Bruce Cockburn’s “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, Red Rider’s “White Hot”, and Stan Rogers’ “Turnaround”, among others.

Any false notes?  Very few.  The nitpicker in me immediately felt thrown from the movie’s reality when Terry appears to speak at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto.  Among the microphones arrayed by the lectern, it felt wrong that only one was wrapped in a corporate flag:  that of the CTV network which (surely a coincidence) produced this telefilm.  Having experienced Toronto in 1980 myself, I was struck by the dearth of these vintage visuals, especially given the attention to other such details.  Beyond the issue of set decoration, I wondered if the producers (or the owners of those logos) had somehow missed the point.  What would be the harm in allowing such decoration, especially in the context of a quest to put aside such matters for a common charitable good?

To their credit, however, the producers have managed something compelling here.  On a technical level, their movie cuts together quite smoothly with actual historical footage and doesn’t suffer for the comparison.  On a narrative level, they’ve managed to take an innately-affecting tragedy and lend it an air of unsensationalized inspiration.  What could have slipped into maudlin manipulation remains respectful.  An effective retelling of Terry’s story, this video should be required viewing for all people, Canadian or otherwise.

* * * * *

Rated PG for mild language

92 minutes

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