Love the Beast should not work as a film because one man’s obsession with his car should not make for compelling filmmaking. It does work, however, and it exceeds any and all expectations.
Eric Bana directed this documentary, and he is as skilled a director as he is an actor. The obsession he is documenting is his own and it is with the Beast, a Ford Falcon GT coupe he bought as a teen and worked on with a close group of friends. Twenty-five years later and nearly as many rebuilds, he still has it, and he wants to race it in the Targa Tasmania, a dangerous rally race through villages and countryside of Tasmania. That’s the short of it, though. If the film were merely about that, I’d be bored with it. Instead, it is probably the best film I’ve ever seen that not only explains the love of racing, but also the realities of passion.
Bana and his friends work together year after year on the Beast. It is a labor of love, and a bond. Bana, obviously, becomes a famous actor along the way, but he doesn’t lose his passion or his friends. And he continues racing even as he receives critical acclaim for his movie roles. The truth is, racing seems more to his liking than acting. His friends know it, too, and when people like Jay Leno (whose multiple garages are porn studios for car lovers), Jeremy Clarkson (from the real Top Gear) and Dr. Phil McGraw talk to him about passion, racing, cars and identity, the film starts taking on some real meat. This meat culminates in Bana’s entrance into the Targa Tasmania.
To get the Beast ready for the rally, Bana and his friends had it rebuilt one more time. They don’t do this rebuild, which is done to make the car a racing machine, but the finished product is a work of absolute beauty. It is, at this point, a literal beast. If you know anything about muscle cars, you understand, as Jeremy Clarkson so candidly points out in a moment of dreadful clarity, that they look good and sound good, but handle like crap. They are like wild horses on meth. Even when you have them in control, you are always on the verge of losing it. Putting a muscle car in a rally race is not courting with disaster -- it is flat out assaulting it with the vague hope you’ll emerge the winner. The reality of that is different, as witnessed in the in-car footage of crashes at various rallies. It is scary stuff. I was in a nasty accident once. I was running from the police, going close to if not over 100 mph when the driver lost control of the vehicle. After skidding all over the winding country road, we came to a stop upon hitting a boulder. The moment I noticed the weeds were growing from where the sky should’ve been was the moment I noticed that at some point we had gone upside down. Those incidents happen in a flash, and you don’t have time to be terrified. A rally race is all about knowing that moment can happen at any time and not letting yourself be terrified by the many obstacles (trees, buildings, poles, spectators, cliffs) that surround you. This film captures that element of insanity, but it is a more serene moment that takes this film from interesting to incredible.
I will not spoil the scene, but I want to point it out, as Bana has, perhaps unwittingly, put a moment on screen that is bigger than the film itself. It is a simple moment, but one that takes a viewer into an emotional pitfall that guarantees they won’t stop watching. It comes during the race. Bana is driving. His friend is riding shotgun and serving as the navigator. They are speeding along a country road. The navigator is rattling off the turns ahead when Bana chooses this moment to include a voice-over of a message he received from his daughter (I believe) on his answering machine. The few things she says choked me up, and caused me to become so emotionally involved that I could not look away if I tried.
If you like Bana or love racing, this is a film you simply must see. If you are only interested in one or the other, this will make you a full-fledged fan of both. If you can’t stand either, you won’t want to watch this (and I’m surprised you’ve read this far). If you don’t watch it, however, you will not only be missing out on one of the best documentaries I’ve seen, but also on one of the most interesting looks at a celebrity as a real “human” and not some prefabricated media sculpture. Bana puts himself out there on every level, and he doesn’t care that you are witnessing him at some of his not-so-best times. When you see him take a swig of beer before going out on the red carpet and calling it “bravery gravy,” you know this is him at his most honest. His love is four wheels and g forces. It shows in every scene, and he didn’t need bravery gravy before tackling the Targa. If you don’t watch this, you will miss that, and you will perhaps never understand what attracts people to racing and the strength passion has over us.
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