Now I’m not usually one for doing big reviews of stuff unless it’s actually on a dedicated review blog, but having just been to see Senna at the Odeon, I felt compelled to post my thoughts on it.
First, a very basic bit of backstory for those who don’t know. Ayrton Senna was a Formula 1 driver, who died during a race in 1994, and this film is basically the story of his career. It’s particularly meaningful to me because, as I believe I mentioned in an earlier blog, Senna was on top of F1 just as I was getting into it back in the late 80s and early 90s.
I hesitate to use the word ‘hero’, but Senna was the first driver I knew, and every memorable F1 moment from 1989 to 1994 seemed to revolve around him in some way. Aside from my mum getting my two-year-old self up at stupid o’clock (or was it the other way round?) to watch the Japanese and Australian Grands Prix back then, Senna was probably the main factor in my F1 obsession.
Right then, the review. Firstly, a small nit to pick. I like to think I know a lot about Ayrton’s life (not least because of this book), and there was a great story in his earlier career that didn’t get told. Possibly it was just because of time constraints, but anything before he signed for McLaren in 1988 was either overlooked completely or brushed over in a matter of minutes, and whatever the reason, knowing what was missing makes it a glaring omission.
Also, I have to be honest, it’s a VERY biased film. Alain Prost and Jean-Marie Balestre come off as evil Gallic panto villains. Now, while there is a degree of truth in that (especially with Balestre, who I happen to think was a corrupt bastard of the highest, or should that be lowest, order), the film totally glosses over some of Senna’s flaws.
Again, I can understand it not wanting to paint Ayrton as the risk-taking madman Prost would have had you believe back in the day, but leaving out incidents such as Estoril ’88 and Imola ’89 (when Senna ignored an agreement the two had) doesn’t just tell things from Senna’s point of view as with other incidents, it gets in the way of a fair reflection of events, especially to those who don’t have any prior knowledge.
Those quibbles aside (although one last one, the ESPN commentator/narrator’s pronunciation of ‘Prost’ irks me and I’d have preferred it to have been done by Murray Walker), Senna is a magnificently done film. The 1994 season in particular is perfectly done, getting across Senna’s discomfort with the new car, concerns about the safety of the new rules and almost desperation about taking on the potentially illegal Benettons.
But it’s Imola where the film really hits home. I still remember that race as if it was yesterday, and needless to say, it’s not exactly a pleasant memory. Every aspect of the weekend is covered, and the video from inside the Williams pit during the crashes of Barrichello (whose name is unforgivably misspelled in the caption), Ratzenberger and of course Senna himself. Hearing the audience gasp and wince during the crashes really added to the atmosphere, too.
It’s an amazingly moving piece of film, and in those minutes alone, cements it as the best film I’ve seen for quite some time. If you have any interest in Formula 1, go and see it, or at the very least buy it when it comes out on DVD.
As one final note, this was the only time I have ever been to a film at the cinema where everybody stayed sat throughout the credits. Read into that what you will, but it’s not something I expect to see happen again for a long time, if ever.
Watch. This. Film.