As someone who’s decidedly uninterested in auto racing, I was admittedly skeptical when a good friend highly recommended Asif Kapadia’s Senna, a documentary about the legendary Brazilian auto racer who died tragically in action at the age of 34. I shouldn’t have doubted him. Senna isn’t really about auto racing at all (though there are a few gripping finishes): rather, it’s about how one’s near-deity status in their profession of choice can touch the world on a nearly unimaginable scope. It’s also a surprisingly deft examination of the power of faith: while it feels suspiciously like the football player thanking God post-touchdown early on, it smoothly grows into a much richer subtext. A sequence near the end, where Senna’s close friend—and doctor—Sid Watkins, who wasn’t a religious man, feels the presence of a higher power right when Senna draws his final breath, is almost supernaturally powerful (it’s also creepy to note just how uncomfortable and nervous Senna was before the fatal race). Yet Kapadia’s assured editing assures that the biblical angle is never overplayed, and since Senna is essentially all archival footage, the moments that DO arise pack an emotional wallop. Senna‘s first half, which focuses more on Senna’s rise to prominence and his Federer/Nadal-esque rivalry with fellow F1 champ Alain Prost, is very solid, but it’s the second hour that really catapults this to must-see territory. The tragedy of Senna’s far-too-early death can’t be cheapened, but it’s heartwarming to see all the silver linings that came from it, a renewed determination to improve safety in F1 racing (since the death, Watkins has led the charge, and there have been no deaths) and a foundation that’s changed the lives of 12 million Brazilian children among them. I would have liked to have learned a bit more about Senna the man (his family, love life, etc), but since he seemed to live for racing and a greater purpose, that’s a minor quibble at most. Don’t let a lack of interest in the “subject matter” deter you from actively seeking Senna out—along with James Marsh’s Project Nim, it’s the best documentary of the year.

72/100