Ayrton Senna

Senna

Ron Howard’s Rush opens with a curious bit of voiceover – Daniel Bruhl, acting as Niki Lauda, tells the audience that he’s known for two things: his feud with fellow Formula One racer James Hunt (played in the film by Chris Hemsworth) and the accident that nearly claimed his life. In the context of the film, it’s not a weird choice, as most of Rush centers quite firmly on the rivalry between Lauda and Hunt that its third act plot point – the one about Lauda’s horrific accident and his subsequent recovery – feels almost shoehorned in. But it is strange because the Lauda storyline is, on its own, extremely compelling stuff. Sure, Howard’s film attempts to comment on the nature of competition and how having a professional nemesis can drive certain people to great things in a pretty definitive way, but anyone who knows anything about Niki Lauda knows that it was his accident that really defined him. James Hunt was simply a part of that. Rush is fine as is, featuring some great performances and one hell of a third act, but it’s a misfire because it doesn’t give its all to the very best part of the story and just go pedal to the metal on a true Niki Lauda biopic. Fortunately, for anyone who isn’t compelled to see Rush right now (or perhaps ever), there’s an available alternative that makes Howard’s latest blockbuster look easy, emotionless, and utterly middle of the road. It’s called Senna, and […]

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Formula One racing is something of a mystery on these NASCAR-obsessed American shores. As a consequence of that, we’ve all heard much more about the Dale Earnhardts and Jeff Gordons of the U.S. automotive world than Ayrton Senna, the late Brazilian driver who’s widely considered to have been one of the best racers of all time. Travel many places outside North America, though, and Formula One is part sport and part religion, attracting legions of fans, reams of sponsors and an enormous swath of media attention. So it’s possible that the celebrity of Senna, who won three world championships and 41 races over the course of his ten-year career (1984-94), eclipsed that of even the most fervently-admired NASCAR racers. Asif Kapadia’s Senna, a documentary about the athletic giant, is one part useful primer into his feats and one part perceptive character study. Consisting entirely of contemporaneous footage — home video images provided by Senna’s family as well as gritty race scenes and revealing behind-the-scenes imagery — the film simultaneously hurls you into the highly-charged world of Formula One and the private emotional space of its complex protagonist.

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