February 20, 2011
Senna the movie, reviewed.
Senna, the movie, sure has a lot of hype to live up to. There have been so many books written, so many documentaries that you have to wonder if there is anything new left to learn about Ayrton. The Freep, Stee, Styles and I went to find out on Sunday afternoon.
This latest documentary is trying to appeal to a broader audience than just the Formula 1 fanatics. Senna is painted very much like the Zen monk of racing, a man for whom racing was not simply going faster on a track but part of a mystical quest. Lose yourself in speed and you will find God, Ayrton describes a moment at the 1988 Monaco GP where he feels himself as if driving beyond his own consciousness. You remember 88 of course, Senna ended up in the Aarmco at Portier throwing away a certain win, something he blamed on dropping out of that mystical state and relaxing. The monk learns a hard lesson. but he bounces back, better, stronger.
A hero needs a nemesis and the man who comes out the worse is by far Alain Prost, painted as a whiny, backstabbing bastard who only won because he had the support of Jean Marie Balestre. In reality both drivers made Schumacher's tactics seem like sunday school stuff, culminating with Senna's suicidal/homicidal move in Suzuka in 1990. Much is made about Prost's contract with Williams forbidding Senna as a teammate but nothing is mentioned about Senna doing something similar to Dereck Warwick when at Lotus. There is of course no mention of Senna punching out Eddie Irvine for having the gall to unlap himself in Japan 1993. But also, not much is made of Ayrton's quest for safety (no mention of him saving Eric Comas?) a quest he ironically helped achieve in death.
So, is the movie worth seeing or is it just another rehash? Well, if you are looking for an complete history of Senna's life, this is not your movie. "Senna" glosses over many key elements of his career, for example there is no mention at all of his intense rivalry with Nelson Piquet, very little is said about 1993 but it focuses instead on his own drive to win and the political obstacles in his way.
The movie includes some fantastically restored footage and looks great on a big screen. There are many never before seen moments, especially interesting: clips from drivers meeting, one of Ayrton seemingly baffled by the evil handling of his Williams FW16 and unable to communicate with his engineers, a touching moment with Ron Dennis before the final race on 1993, a Brazilian TV interview with Rubens Barrichello so in awe of standing next to the great Senna that he can barely speak (a metaphor for his subsequent career?).
I think in the end, "The Right to Win" is a more complete and satisfying movie for a fan but the filmmakers have made "Senna" into a well paced and effective piece telling a very compelling story and it's great to see in a theater so yeah, definitively don't miss it. It's just that painting Ayrton a little less saint like would have made him seem more human and perhaps even more sympathetic.
Senna is playing in New York at the City Cinemas Village East on 2nd Avenue and 12th street, at 12:30 and 2:30 this next week.