← Back to Reviews

The life and death of Brazilian formula 1 race car driver Ayrton Senna.

This documentary movie treats its subject as a tragic figure. I am not sure I agree with that point of view. From the get go the movie shows him as someone different from other race car drivers and someone who naively happens to pursue his goal against all odds. It felt like there is another clear way to look at this whole ordeal. But what makes this point of view stick is the personality of Senna. He comes off as someone who just goes about by his business.Look, this movie covers all the standard tropes of traditional biopic but since in this case its documentary, the movie uses real footage to build a narrative. That is the most admirable aspect of the movie.

The main challenge involved in making a great auto racing movie is to sustain the adrenaline rush for the entire run time of the movie. There is a way to go about it but time and again all the racing movies drop the ball. Most of the movies in general have lot of filler scenes. The actual juicy part is 30% of the movie. This is especially true with a racing movie. Merging the adrenaline rush of an actual racing sequence with the legacy and conflict of race car drivers outside the race track is a near impossible task. There is a canned approach to it and every movie follows that. Race to tragic to legacy to doubt to conflicts to race. This cycle keeps going on and on. The problem with this approach is that there is nothing unique about it. You can literally replace auto racing with any other sport and you don't see much impact or difference in any of this.

Personally, I think the best and unique way of dealing with auto racing movie is to hold the audience attention and not let go the entire run time of the movie. No other sport can do that. It is the only sport which is intense from star to finish once it begins. Almost all other sports have pauses built into them. This is the key factor most racing movies forget. They sort of lean into the "short" duration of races and use the races to create the intense parts of the movie and use the rest of the movie to tell either a heroic conflicted story or a tragic conflicted story. There is nothing special about that. Same with this movie. Since the driver is from Brazil which is full of poverty, he helps people. Auto racing is known for its politics and the movie shows him being treated unfairly due to politics. The movie shows him as an ambitious person whose only goal in life and one true passion is to race and the movie makes him out to be quite uncomfortable in any other social circumstances. It doesn't show him having fun. In the end it treats his death as a combination of failure of auto racing safety regulations and his never quit attitude and human spirit. To me that just doesn't cut it. Even though the movie deals with his rivalry with a fellow race car driver in great detail it all somehow feels very cliched. The conflict is there in real life and the documentary doesn't do anything outstanding. All in all , despite setting the movie exclusively in formula 1 racing tracks and Brazil the movie and storytelling lacks cerebral touch and feels safe in its approach. Hopefully future movies like Ford v. Ferrari by James Mangold avoids these cliches. The key here is to make the whole movie feel like a race. Director needs to get creative in telling the story and at the same time use the scenes outside race tracks to build momentum in the race. Make the people observing the race feel unsafe themselves as to what it all means. Most of the spectators in auto racing movies are speed junkies. So why not use them to build the momentum in the race tracks. If there is corporate pressure on the drivers then use that to build momentum on the race and not treat it as an element from a different movie. I believe that since Ford v. Ferrari deals with endurance racing and I don't think there is another movie that deals with endurance racing the length of races is long and that might help the movie to be different and be the definitive car movie of all time.

One more thing I liked about this movie is its origins. The movie was made because the filmmakers involved are massive fans of Senna and since his name will soon be forgotten from pop culture with passing of time, the filmmakers as fans decided to make the movie. That is quite rare in film industry. Movies getting made just due to the passion and desire and fandom of its filmmakers towards its central character is quite rare. That's highly admirable.