The film begins with Senna's arrival in Formula One stage in the mid 1980's, after leaving Brazil to compete on the international stage in go-karting. It follows Senna's struggles both on the track against his McLaren-Holden teammate and rival, French World Champion Alain Prost, and off it, against the internal politics of the sport. A fierce competitor, Senna accomplished incredible driving feats (notably holding the record for most pole positions and winning six times at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix) that would rank him amongst the greatest drivers who ever lived. Despite winning three Formula One World Championships between 1988 and 1991, his career was also riddled with numerous scandals and controversies.
Senna is presented as heroic, courageous, spiritual and ruthless. He conquers and transcends Formula One racing to become a global superstar. In private Senna is represented as humble, patriotic and generous, donating millions to his native Brazil and contemplating a life beyond motor racing. His untimely death came in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix. He remains the last driver to die at the wheel of a Formula One car. From the throbbing soundtrack to the exciting race coverage, Senna is a tremendously thrilling cinematic experience like no other.
Senna's story is fashioned as a present drama rather than as a posthumous documentary. We feel like we are witnessing his life happen before our eyes, not as an account of the past. There are no contemporary interviews; Senna's story is told exclusively through masterfully edited archival footage. Kapadia focuses exclusively on Senna, tracking him everywhere. Ranging from first hand footage of his achievements on the track, to feisty drivers meetings, to holidays in Brazil with family and friends, to his celebrity appearances on television programs, using previously unseen footage, we are taken on an incredible journey through his fascinating life.
Senna's story is so absorbing because he is someone we grow to admire and respect over the course of the film. He is such a charismatic and eccentric personality; an inspiration not just for Brazilians, but for sporting fans the world over. He is passionate about his sport and supremely confident in his immense talents (often reckless as a result), but we see him growing increasingly frustrated at what he saw to be political meddling in a world where money and technology had taken over. Before his ill-fated race in 1994, Senna sought strength from the Bible because he was clearly unhappy with the mechanics of his car and feared for his life. At a time when teams were experimenting with new engineering, his sense of foreboding increased when Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed in qualifying just days before.
Ayrton Senna was a man who considered himself invincible, believing it was by the grace of God that he was possessed with such speed. The epitome of a sporting idol, Senna's passion for competing and for life transcends his incredible driving skills. Those alive to experience his reign as World Champion are never likely to forget the man, but this unforgettable cinematic experience will secure his legacy. Honestly, I have never been so eager to see a film again.
My Rating: 5 Stars (A+)