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Federer: Twelve Final Days Review


Federer: Twelve Final Days Review


Summary

  • Designed for die-hard Federer fans, this emotional documentary lacks suspense or depth for a wide audience craving more substance.
  • Focusing on Federer’s retirement, the film misses the opportunity for genuine drama or controversy, opting instead for a sentimental eulogy.
  • While Federer’s final moments on court are poignant, the documentary’s lack of unscripted jeopardy makes it a flat tribute to an iconic career.



It’s often said that familiarity breeds contempt. However, in the case of the hagiographic documentary, Federer: Twelve Final Days, it seems like the reverse is true. A movie made for uber-fans of the legendary Swiss tennis maestro, the film offers some emotional catharsis and interesting insight into the athlete and his inner circle. For everyone else, however, the earnest yet lightweight documentary will leave them yearning for something with a bit more bite.

Federer: Twelve Final Days (2024)

Director
Asif Kapadia , Joe Sabia

Release Date
June 20, 2024

Cast
Rafael Nadal , Roger Federer , Novak Djokovic , Andy Murray

Runtime
100 Minutes


Unlike some sporting stories, this documentary is not designed to be an interrogation. There is no uncertainty about where the filmmakers, participants, nor anyone else involved in the production stand on their subject. This is a 90-minute love-in, eulogizing one of the greatest players to ever grace the game. From this standpoint, it is a success – serving as a cinematic wake for one of the most extraordinary athletic careers. But for anyone seeking drama, uncertainty, or anything beyond an inevitable procession to the funeral pyre, Federer: Twelve Final Days is a missed opportunity.

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Federer: Twelve Final Days Is A Labored Tribute To An Icon

Roger Federer tying his bandana


Before assessing whether Federer: Twelve Final Days is worth watching, it’s important to understand who the movie is aimed at. This is not a sporting documentary with the jeopardy of The Last Dance, nor the drama of co-director Asif Kapadia’s earlier film Senna. Instead, it plays like a funerary service whose power is constantly undermined by the fact that the dearly departed is playing an active role in the ceremony.

The movie opens with an emotional Federer reciting a heartfelt letter to his fans and the wider tennis community. In it, he explains the rationale behind his painful decision to retire, citing struggles with injuries and his aging body. While Roger Federer rages against the dying of the light, the film explores the goings-on in the Federer inner circle as plans are made for the ultimate send-off at the Laver Cup – an event created by Federer himself as tennis’ version of the Ryder Cup.


There is no room here for hard-hitting analysis or stirring up controversy…

The 12-day buildup to this event is interspersed with brief montages from Federer’s illustrious career, short interviews with former rivals and admirers, and occasional interjections from members of Federer’s personal team. There is no room here for hard-hitting analysis or stirring up controversy (not that there is much where Federer is concerned). Nor is there any real time for a detailed account of why Federer is such a legend, where his greatest victories came, or how impressive his achievements actually were. This is a movie that demands prior knowledge.


Unfortunately, while most viewers will undoubtedly be aware of Federer’s remarkable career, titles, and legacy, the uncomfortable truth is that these are all much more interesting than the story the film insists on telling. Just as The Last Dance succeeded by breathing new life into old glories, Federer: Twelve Final Days tantalizes with glimpses of the great man at his free-flowing best. Then, when the film threatens to get interesting with fleeting references to gladiatorial battles against Nadal and Djokovic in an unprecedented era of tennis excellence, tedium returns with extended administrative discussion about the logistics around Federer’s swansong.

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Federer: Twelve Final Days Teases With Interesting Details

Roger Federer with a tennis racket shadow

What’s most frustrating is that there is plenty of content here to make an interesting sports documentary for everyone. It would have been fascinating, for instance, to watch in real-time how the trauma of surgery affected Federer mentally, or how he miraculously recovered from knee surgery to regain the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in 2017. These stories are full of the dramatic, unscripted jeopardy that typically make sporting stories so riveting. By contrast, everything about Federer: Twelve Final Days feels pre-prepared and lacking in friction – the antithesis of what great sport is about.


In a way, this explains why the film is most effective in its final act. As Federer takes to the court for the final time, it’s a reminder that sport cannot be contrived to fit a neat narrative. Yet, rather than undermining the movie, these moments actually redeem it, with his struggles on the court highlighting the heartbreak of his waning powers. It demonstrates how, no matter who you are, you can never choose how your sports career ends. However great one’s influence or significant their legacy, sport often doesn’t play ball.


For Federer’s many legions of fans, Federer: Twelve Final Days offers an extended behind-the-scenes look at what was clearly an emotionally intense moment for everyone involved. It would also be wrong to say that a moment as significant as Federer’s retirement is undeserving of recognition. However, without a personal connection to the story, Federer: Twelve Final Days is a slightly flavorless digestif after the main course that was the Swiss’ inimitable career.

Federer: Twelve Final Days premiered at the 2024 Tribeca Festival. It will be available to stream on Prime Video on Thursday, June 20.

Federer_ Twelve Final Days (2024) - Poster - Roger Federer

Pros

  • The documentary provides good emotional catharsis
  • It’s a well-made documentary overall that will please longtime fans of Federer
Cons

  • Federer: Twelve Final Days is lacking in bite
  • The absence of genuine intensity and drama hurts the film

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