The first thing everyone notices when watching “Senna” is the look of the documentary. It’s using the footage of the times, and that wasn’t filmed digitally. Most sport documentaries have the slick ESPN feel, but this one is more like ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” “Senna” doesn’t cut to interviews that are filmed today but always keeps within the time of each race.
Ayrton Senna was a Formula One racer who became a world champion. For those who are not familiar, this style of racing is more dangerous partly because of racecourses that are full of turns. Every crash, whether NASCAR or IndyCar, is tragic, but Formula One seems even more unpredictable.
Most subject documentaries, even the best ones, have family members and experts talk to the camera with all of their hyperbole. All of the new interviews are just used as voiceover, but that is more about clarification than anything else. Anything else would be unnecessary. There is so much footage of Senna in and out of the car, he can be his own defense. There are plenty of moments of him at his best and worst, showing him as a full human being.
This honest portrayal of the athlete makes him more sympathetic. The specific races don’t seem as important, but you’ll want to see him succeed. Most sports movies say they aren’t about the sport, but this really does seem to just be about this character. He is completely charming as he flirts with a talk-show host with seemingly little effort. His support for his home county of Brazil is heartwarming and genuine. His rivalry towards him teammate Alain Prost is frustrating but believable.
The movie has to hit so many things right in order to successfully pull off its ending. Through strong editing and the right focus, this is a special movie. The man and the film can’t live up to the level of praise it has received. It was not about what races he won or where his story went. This film will live on because it knew how to capture one fascinating man.