"Senna" is a documentary about Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna of Brazil, the three-time world titlist who died in a racetrack crash in 1994 at age 34.
The film has several edge-of-your-seat driving scenes that alone justified the admission. But like other great sports-themed documentaries ("When We Were Kings" comes to mind) Senna transcends sport.
A moviegoer without any knowledge of the top level of auto racing can and likely will appreciate the detailed biography of Senna as a driven driver.
The boxing movie examines the personalities of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman and their intense, complicated relationship. Likewise "Senna" is more about the famed Brazilian underneath the racing helmet as well as his rivalry with long-time teammate and nemesis Alain Prost of France.
British director Asif Kapadia tells Senna's story with incredible race footage. And there are telling, emotional interviews with Senna's family and his racetrack associates. Senna often spoke of his faith. He showcased his patriotism by waving a Brazilian flag after winning races. He was a hero in his native country during a time when the poverty stricken nation needed a hero most. He gave money to children's charities, and he took them for boat rides.
Senna's rivalry with Prost is ideally portrayed in the film. Prost is the more emotional of the two drivers, but both are keenly well-spoken and charismatic. Senna was handsome and intensely popular with women. The movie shows Senna with women, but it's understated and innocent.
It's as if Senna, despite his immense popularity among women (and men) remained remarkably humble, if not shy — except when he was driving. It's in competition, the documentary relates, that Sienna had superior driving skills and a greater ability to take more risks than any of his contemporaries.
"Senna" won the world cinema documentary award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It'll likely receive or should receive similar honors at the Academy Awards.