Directed by: Asif Kapadia Cast: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost Running Time: 1 hr 46 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: August 19, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: A documentary about the racing career of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, a rebellious champion who became the pride of Brazil.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Senna transcends its two main demographics of sports fans and documentary viewers. Those who don't normally watch sports will find this to be a captivating documentary, and vice versa.
EXPECTATIONS: I knew nothing about this movie except that it was a hit on the festival circuit, and had a record-breaking opening weekend at the box office. This was one of the films that I thought I'd regret missing back at SXSW.
TALKING: There are no talking heads in this doc, just voice-overs that are used as a form of colorful glue for the movie's time line of footage. No voice-over is too long, which prevents them from being distracting to the visuals that they are meant to only complement. Score: 8
SIGHTS: Senna is a documentary that allows viewers to not just look into these moments, but to live in them. While it it certainly operates like a documentary, it has a visual finesse seen more often in narrative films. The behind-the-scenes footage of Senna pre-and-post racing can be so intimate and full that particular moments play out like great pieces of scripted drama (especially when Senna meets with the other drivers about the tire barricade dilemma). An in-car camera provides a unique angle for viewing Senna’s driving, which makes the moments delightfully tense even when he appears to be in control. While it might be using footage from the late 80's and early 90's, some of the film has footage that'd been beautifully restored. Using speedy editing when creating a full picture, Senna's only visual flaw is that the subtitles are too small. Score: 9
SOUNDS: Whether it's using Audioslave-like jamming guitars or a tense string section, Senna creates excitement for its tense moments with a lively soundtrack that doesn't simply give something for viewers to choose whether or not it's there. The sound mixing is masterful, as it really heightens the roaring of each car in a race. The overall sounds of Senna offer the necessary thrill in order for audiences to experience what it must have felt like during such events. Score: 9
BEST SCENE: There are lot of great moment in Senna, so I'll just cover entire segments. The entire technology storyline is really powerful, and full of great characters, sudden tragedies, and has a thoughtful, eternally prominent theme. The moment in which it is revealed that Alain Prost was a trustee of Senna's charity would have made me tear up a tad if only I wasn't SO TOUGH.
ENDING: Its ending is more powerful and poignant than anything we could have expected. The "flashback" cuts at Senna's ceremony are especially moving, and also break the convention for documentary filmmaking. It's something you'd see in a narrative, not a documentary.
QUESTIONS: How easy was it for the filmmakers to obtain all of the footage of Senna, especially those marked as "home video"? How much of a racing fan is Kapadia? Will this movie be a big hit with NASCAR fans, or is it too "international" for some audiences? Why were the subtitles so small?
REWATCHABILITY: Senna is definitely worth a second visit, either in the near future, or when I proclaim to my friend that he must watch it when it's on Instant. Though, I would definitely see this again in the theater.
“Pure driving. Pure racing. That makes me happy.”
Aytron Senna would indeed be happy with his documentary, and not just because it praises him like the legend he is. This speedy film is about pure racing, and it feeds off an energy that matches any time Senna competed to capture the heart of millions. The film presents his full career, including a classic rivalry with another driver (Alain Prost), and Senna’s clashes with the sport’s regulations. Each exhilarating race shown in the film has an excitement to them, and feels more powerful than any narrative racing scene that might come to mind.
Senna is the type of film that will make good smaller-scope films when it gets inevitably chopped up by narrative Hollywood. Until that happens, we can excitedly enjoy the film's heartfelt retrospective in this great documentary.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10