Brazilian Formula One champion Ayrton Senna is widely considered the greatest race car driver of all time. Killed in a 1994 crash, he dominated the sport in the 1980s and '90s, becoming the sport's sex symbol and standard-bearer. He was also a symbol of national pride in his homeland as it emerged from decades of authoritarian military rule and death squads.
Asif Kapadia's documentary "Senna" brings him vibrantly to life through archival racing footage, home movies and news reports dating back to his teenage years as a karting competitor. There's not an ounce of fat or a wasted shot throughout. The film boasts electrifying sequences from Senna's most important races, including car-mounted mini-camera shots that virtually put viewers in the driver's seat. It finds compelling personal drama in Senna's feud with French champ Alain Prost, his sometime racing team partner, whose cool, calculating approach to driving and political infighting made him the Brazilian's nemesis.
The film charts Senna's rise, rivalries, reign and demise, presenting the man in all his paradoxical glory. He hit more cars in three years than most F1 drivers do in their entire careers. Yet he was a campaigner for stricter safety regulations. He was born rich but committed to uplifting the poor. He was religiously devout, yet he had a penchant for nubile beauties, including Xuxa, Brazil's gene-splice of Charo and Anna Nicole Smith, guest-starring on her sacrilegiously tacky Christmas TV special. He was humble but not immune to hubris. He was lucky in a dangerous sport until he wasn't. And above all, he had drive.