Asif Kapadia’s documentary shows Senna’s dare-devilish rise in the ’80s, his joining the team of reigning champ Alain Prost, his increasingly bitter rivalry with Prost, and his disgust with officials who considered him an insolent hot dogger. His 1988 duel with Prost (the two took 15 of 16 Grand Prix trophies, Senna zipping ahead at the end) may have been the ultimate season. And, like Gene Kelly, Senna was “a genius in the rain,” brilliant on slick surfaces.
On film he seems mild and thoughtful. On asphalt he clearly loved the adrenalized charge that let him shave corners and (in the view of some) become dangerous. Because Senna was so charming, Kapadia has an easy sell, plus terrific race footage using car-mounted cameras. And because Senna was charitable and deeply religious — he claims to have “seen God” as he won his first world trophy — it is easy for Kapadia to ring a halo around the greatest Brazilian sportsman since Pelé.
Personal life remains private, though we see Senna’s devoted family and the vast swell of national emotion that embraced him during one of Brazil’s most painful eras. We never feel that Senna was another overpaid sports egotist. This movie is a devotional candle, yet it casts light on a canny, graceful, hard-driving, and driven man.
Reviewed in the movie listings: Griff the Invisible, The Names of Love, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, and 30 Minutes or Less.