Should I Watch..? 'Love the Beast'
What's the big deal?
Love The Beast is a motoring documentary film released in 2009 and is the pet project of Australian actor Eric Bana, the film's director and star. The film follows Bana's love of motor sports and in particular his cherished Ford Falcon, a restoration job that he and his friends have worked on for years. The film fundamentally asks whether its possible to develop a relationship with a car and what happens when that relationship is in jeopardy. In addition to Bana and his friends, we also get contributions from other celebrity petrol-heads like Jay Leno and Jeremy Clarkson as well as psychologist Phil McGraw. The film only received a wide release in Bana's native Australia, the UK and New Zealand but despite this, the film became the second highest-grossing documentary in Australian history and when the film premiered at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, all four showings were completely sold out.
What's it about?
Long before finding fame as a comedian and actor on TV and film, a fifteen-year-old Eric Bana bought himself a 1974 Ford Falcon XB - an Australian-produced muscle car that Bana had fallen in love with watching it race at the legendary Bathurst Circuit in the late Seventies. Costing him A$1100, the car was little more than a rusty shell and a handful of scrap parts. But as the years rolled on, the car became "a camp-fire" for Bana and three of his closest friends, a restoration project that none of them ever lost their enthusiasm for.
Finally getting The Beast up to racing spec, Bana decides to enter the car into the five-day Targa Tasmania - a gruelling tarmac-based rally across the southern Australian island of Tasmania. With his friend Tony as navigator, Bana enters the race but tragedy strikes on day four. With his dreams in tatters, Bana considers what the car actually means to him and how valuable is to him.
Trailer (caution: contains an expletive)
Dr Phil McGraw
Release Date (UK)
13th November, 2009
What's to like?
Bana comes across as a likeable chap and not just because his three oldest friends tell us how fame and fortune hasn't changed him much. But the relationship that is most intriguing is between Bana and his car, known as The Beast. It is a deep and personal connection - even one of his friends wonders why he has kept the car for so long - but to Bana, the Beast isn't a car. It was an excuse for his friends to come over and tinker with the machine, the focal point for years of bonding. As an enthusiastic (albeit poor and non-celebrity) petrol-head, I fully understand the car's significance.
Before and during the racing scenes, Bana's affable nature comes to the fore in conversation with renowned petrol-heads Leno and Clarkson. Leno offers more insight into the relationship between car and owner while Clarkson is his usual, demeaning self. But the film actually spends more time with redneck psychologist Dr Phil, not known for his love of cars but his attempts to understand and explain human behaviour via his own TV shows. You don't necessarily agree with him all the time but he seems to get why the car is important to Bana, its own place in his personal history and why Bana is conflicted when the inevitable strikes.
- Eric's navigator, Tony Ramunno, is the CEO of Witchmount Estate, the award-winning winery located 25 miles outside of Melbourne.
- The film premier that we see Eric reluctantly attend was for the 2007 release Lucky You, a romantic comedy starring Bana alongside Drew Barrymore and Robert Duvall. The film bombed with global takings of just $8.3 million.
- The Targa Tasmania continues to run today and has attracted a number of former and current racing drivers over the years including motorcycle legend Barry Sheene, Sir Jack Brabham, iconic Formula One commentator Murray Walker, Sir Stirling Moss and two-time World Rally Champion Walter Röhrl.
What's not to like?
There is something about the film that doesn't quite ring true. For all of his limelight-shunning and humble nature, Bana displays an enormous amount of confidence in his driving skills. How else do you explain him entering a car that has been part of his life for a quarter of a century into a competition where the price for pushing too hard could prove catastrophic? The film also glosses over the final transformation of the Beast into a genuine street-racer, briefly mentioning the 3000 hours' work put into the car without mentioning the people who did it. As Leno himself points out, Bana wouldn't have crashed if he had done the work himself.
Aside from a brief glimpse into an obviously tightly-knit group of Aussie guys, the film doesn't offer much in the way of conclusion. The racing scenes are reminiscent of the old Top Gear TV show (which Bana appeared on opposite Clarkson to promote this film) with some gorgeous helicopters shot of the Beast tearing through town and countryside, tyre smoke billowing out from the rear wheels. But after the crash, the film seems to twiddle its thumbs as though it doesn't know how to end now that the presumably intended climax of the car successfully completing the rally was taken out of their hands. It felt a little self indulgent on Bana's part - it's common knowledge that he is a petrol-head but unlike the rest of us, his success enables him to live the dream the likes of you and I have.
Should I watch it?
Love The Beast might not be especially profound as a documentary but anyone with a love of cars and motoring will certainly enjoy it. It's noisy and a little worrying at times, seeing such a big and heavy car sliding recklessly through a residential area, but the film is as much about friendship as it is about vehicular mayhem. I wanted a bit more history and a bit less Dr Phil but the film is an interesting time-passer for anyone obsessed with four-wheeled pleasure.
Great For: car lovers, wannabe street racers, Ford enthusiasts
Not So Great For: the wife, non-car people, anyone who thinks Clarkson is a numpty
What else should I watch?
Without question the greatest documentary ever made about motor racing, Senna is a compulsive and in-depth look at arguably the greatest driver in the history of Formula One. Winning the championship three times in a ten-year career, Senna developed a reputation for ruthlessness on the track and unparalleled skill at over-taking and driving in wet conditions. But away from the circuit, he is extremely generous and donated millions of his own salary to help poor and disadvantaged children in his native Brazil. The film also analyses his tragic death at Imola in 1994 and the impact it had on the sport and those around him.
The only other films really worth watching about motor sports both concern Formula One, although one of them is actually a drama based on real events. Ron Howard's Rush details the rivalry between flamboyant playboy James Hunt and ice-cold tactician Niki Lauda during the 1976 World Championship - a rivalry which would almost have tragic consequences. The other film I'd recommend is called 1 and it feels like a veritable who's-who of Formula One is interviewed, although the film covers the sport's safety record rather than focus on the racing itself. The film does not shy away from the brutality of the sport in its earlier days with 19 drivers killed in just fifteen seasons from 1967, a stark contrast to the relative safety of the sport today which has seen just the one fatality since Senna's passing in 1994.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox