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SENNA (director: Asif Kapadia; screenwriter: Manish Pandey; editors: Gregers Sall/Chris King; music: Antonio Pinto; cast: Alain Prost, Dr. Sid Watkins, Frank Williams, Jean-Marie Balestre, Ayrton Senna; Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: James Gay-Rees/Tim Bevan/Eric Fellner; Universal Pictures; 2010)

“Though the film seemingly had a good ambassador for the sport, astounding racing footage and was well-presented, the subject matter never fully engaged me.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Asif Kapadia (“Far North”/”The Return”/”The Warrior”) directs this ESPN film on the legendary Formula One driver from Brazil, Ayrton Senna, from his first pro season in 1984 until his untimely death at the age of 34 in a racing accident in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix. I went into the film knowing zilch about the sport and not caring a darn about it, and though the film seemingly had a good ambassador for the sport, astounding racing footage and was well-presented, the subject matter never fully engaged me.

The film consists of interviews with the subject, his friends, his family, drivers and others in the racing business. What gives the pic its glitter are the TV clips, racing footage from the archives, rare backstage footage of controversial drivers’ only meetings and home movies of Senna’s close knit Catholic family relaxing at home or by the sea.

Senna, from a wealthy family and a person of deep faith, is shown in his public rise from obscurity to an international celebrity as a self-promoting racing star who brought great publicity to the Formula 1 sport, an organization he challenged for their political maneuverings. We first see him racing at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. The last we see of him is in front of a live television audience of some 300 million when his car hit a wall at the track at the San Marino Grand Prix. No reason was uncovered for the fatal accident, except for the possibility that the steering wheel broke and the car couldn’t be controlled.

Senna was loved by the Brazilian people for his courage, good looks, patriotism and his charity work of helping underprivileged children. He won three World Championships in his decade of professional racing.

Frenchman Alain Prost, a level-headed but calculating pragmatist, was the fiery and very competitive Senna’s main rival. While Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre, the president of the Fédération Internationale de Sport Automobile, favored Prost, and here is positioned as the film’s possible villain as he’s shown always ruling against Senna.

The pic is sketchy in its personal profile of its high living bachelor subject, but points out that Senna always tried for excellence, was never satisfied with his accomplishments and enjoyed the thrill of living on the edge (even accused by other drivers of being a cutthroat driver who dangerously bumped into them in his zeal to win at any cost), and felt his dangerous occupation helped him believe in God with such passion.

REVIEWED ON 10/16/2011 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”