Documentary Review: ‘Coyote: The Mike Plant Story’

Review by James Lindorf

Sparkplug Films teamed up with first-time director Thomas M. Simmons to bring you Coyote, the story of Mike Plant, who was an adventure seeking, former drug smuggling, world-renowned sailor. Mike Plant spent most of his 20’s with a bad case of wonder lust and a love for the ocean that rivaled Moana. Plant was a construction worker in Newport Rhode Island when he saw The Ultimate Challenge, a movie about the 1982-83 BOC Challenge, an around the world sailing race. That day in the theater changed Plant’s life forever because, “I just have a gut feeling I’m going to be very good at this.” And he set his sights on entering the 1986 BOC Challenge. Plant will get another big day in the theater on October 16th, when Coyote begins a limited release.

The biggest thing for any new documentarian is to choose a subject they know, that they are passionate about, and to share it in a compelling way. Thomas M. Simmons definitely knew his subject; he is the nephew of Mike Plant, after all. While I am sure he enjoys sailing, it is not the sport that made him passionate to share the story of his uncle it was his bravery. The courage Plant possessed, not only to circumnavigate the world single-handedly 3 times, a feat completed by only four others at that point in history, but to change his life in such a dramatic way allowed him to say he was among the best at something he had never tried before. By making a dramatic change to his own life, leaving the financial world behind, and taking a shot at being a director, Simmons finds himself following in his uncle’s footsteps in more ways than one.

It is clear that Simmons had the knowledge and the drive to present a good story, but it is the third most crucial element that Simmons was at his best. Blending archival footage with modern interviews and stunning establishing shots, he was able to paint a portrait of who Mike Plant was and what drove him. Being a family member and telling a story about chasing your dreams did not prevent Simmons from sharing the darker side of Plant. From the time he was 13, when he stole and wrecked the family car, Mike Plant has been a man obsessed with facing a challenge and finding the next adventure. Around the time he turned 20 he hitch-hiked solo across South America, dabbled in cocaine smuggling, and funded the purchase of a sail boat to charter people from one Greek island to the next. After a run in with the law, Mike returned to the US and settled down as best he could, until that fateful day in the theater.

Simmons may have showed a bit of his inexperience in his role as an editor, as the film drags slightly in its middle portion. It is a bit of delayed gratification, after so much build up, you want that pay off and it comes maybe 5 minutes later than it should have. A directing choice I wish Simmons had made would have been to include some basic sailing information for landlubbers like myself. I have seen a sailboat, but have no idea how they are built, operated, maintained or navigated. For example, you hear the term BOC referred to at least 30 times but not once are we told what it stands for. Turns out it’s the British Oxygen Company, the race’s official sponsor.

Coyote is a great film for people who are not into documentaries because they think they don’t contain enough excitement. Coyote is easily the most intense documentary I have ever seen. The entire film has an ominous tone, and it takes a while to figure out if the momentous occurrence will be Plant becoming the first person to put an end to the French domination in the sport or if the film will end with him losing his life. The score by composers Tony Braasch and Jeff Victor only adds to the intensity of the film by complimenting the serenity, excitement and danger involved with spending 135+ days alone on the ocean. Cinematographer John DeCesare also did a wonderful job establishing the beautiful sites that Plant would have seen on his travels, as well as the dangers. From thrashing ocean waves to ice flows near Antarctica, there isn’t much rest for solo sailors. Especially for one like Plant, who was always undermanned and underfunded, compared to his competitors. On October 16th, 32 years ago, Mike Plant was in the middle of his first race around the world, and this October 16th, thanks to Coyote, you can join him on his adventures.

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