Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, Viviane Senna, Milton da Silva
Written by: Manish Pandey
Directed by: Asif Kapadia
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language and disturbing images
Running Time: 106
Date: 10/07/2010

Senna (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Race for the Prize

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Most reviews you'll read of Asif Kapadia's Senna will begin with something like: "I'm not much for racing, but this is a really good movie." I was about to say the same thing. I somehow think that the community of movie critics and the community of racing fans would hardly run in the same circles, and, if they were invited to a party, would probably not mingle. Perhaps now they will. Senna is a really good movie, and I'm a little bit more into racing than I once was.

One of the best things about Senna is its format. Rather than the usual, tiresome talking head formula, director Kapadia assembles his entire film out of archival footage. Someone as famous as Ayrton Senna was on camera a lot, and there's a great deal of footage to draw from (most excitingly, there was actually a video camera mounted in Senna's race car!). His friends and family occasionally drop in to narrate, but mostly Kapadia lets Senna do his own talking -- and driving.

Senna (1960-1994) was a Brazilian, a three-time Formula One champ, and widely regarded as one of the greatest racecar drivers of all time (the greatest, according to the movie). His fascinating life included a fiery friendship/rivalry with French driver Alain Prost, and a passionate regard for his home country; he was a beloved hero to the country's down-and-out.

Happily, though, the movie does delve somewhat into the politics of racing, dealing with issues like the allowance of computers on board racing cars, or arguments about the layout of the track, one of which -- a complex issue -- led to Senna's suspension in 1989.

The movie generally shows him as a good guy, a deserving hero, while Prost is slightly shaded as the movie's bad guy (he flirts with a pretty TV anchorwoman, who then asks about his wife). Indeed, while I love the format of this movie, it doesn't particularly allow for a very deep exploration of Senna's inner psyche. When he was on news cameras and in public, he was on his best behavior. He was a hugely charismatic guy, and that's how he will be remembered.
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