Originally published Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Movie review

'Senna': Capturing life in the fast lane

"Senna": Asif Kapadia's well-made documentary about Brazilian Formula One racing legend Ayrton Senna.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Senna,' documentary directed by Asif Kapadia. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13 for strong language and disturbing images. Varsity.

quotes Asif Kapadia has made a film that will resonate not only with those who are followers... Read more
quotes The cause of the deadly crash turned out to be from the steering column weakened from... Read more


After a racing-car fatality, one of several narrators of "Senna" asks the inevitable question: "What are we doing here? What's the point?"

His cry reverberates throughout this documentary about Brazil's Formula One racing legend, Ayrton Senna, who was 34 when he died on the track in 1994.

He was extraordinarily lucky until that crash, and devout as well — the movie's theme song might as well be "With God on Our Side" — but he may have been doomed by a series of mishaps.

Perhaps it was the tinkering with computer technology that led to his death. Perhaps it was the result of Senna's bitter rivalry with a French driver, Alain Prost, or the lack of trust that became part of the sport.

Or maybe he had just stayed around one season too many. Among his friends and relatives (who supply the commentary) is a doctor who suggested that Senna retire and go fishing.

The British director, Asif Kapadia, presents several possibilities while creating a sense of doom that becomes especially difficult to shake during the final scenes. Best-known for the 2007 drama, "Far North," Kapadia works hard to establish a context for Senna's short life.

Wealthy and charming, Senna and his family were clearly seen as Brazilian royalty. After he died, much of the nation (which witnessed the live television broadcast of that final race) went into mourning.

Coproduced by Kevin Macdonald (whose other documentary this summer is "Life in a Day"), "Senna" is carefully edited and makes sometimes spectacular use of extensive home movies and videos.

The clips show Senna as a gawky kid, then a slender Go-cart racer, then an openly flirtatious 20-something (he rewarded female fans with very public kisses), then a generous philanthropist and a wary perfectionist who feared for his safety. The effect is similar to Michael Apted's "28 Up" series.

But Apted, so far, has not captured the on-camera demise of any of his subjects. Nor is he likely to. Death on ESPN is another matter.

John Hartl:

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