This is quite an accomplished documentary once you get past a couple of glaring flaws.
The first would be Eric Bana’s voiceover. This is a film that documents his lifelong love of cars and of one in particular – his ’74 XB Falcon Coupe. From the outset we’re subjected to Bana’s sickly sweet, overly nostalgic voiceover, and it’s all too much. He instantly piles it on too thick, and this may be a stumbling block for many. Once we get into the nitty-gritty, however, a solid, original and emotionally involving documentary surfaces.
We very quickly forget that Bana is an internationally acclaimed actor as we meet his family, his mates and – most importantly – his car. An obsession since childhood, Bana’s tinkered with his XB many times in the past, but this time around he goes the whole hog and has the thing rebuilt from the ground up, spending a fortune in the process. His main aim is to race in Tasmania’s Targa rally for the second time, and once we get into the race the film becomes truly addictive. I have no interest whatsoever in cars, but a documentary maker should always assume that its audience isn’t as obsessed as they are. Love the Beast does exactly that, and this is one of the reasons why it works.
This film is brilliantly edited. Conor O’Neill, who has worked on such documentaries as Murderball and Air Guitar Nation clearly knows how to pick and choose from hours of documentary footage. Editing is of paramount importance in documentaries, and some of the sequences here are fantastic. A cinematic narrative soon coalesces and the climax is quite thrilling.
Bana’s friends take up a lot of the screentime, and they’re a likeable bunch – possibly the ultimate group of Aussie blokes. He’s also enlisted the help of some celebrities to shed light on his obsession. Some obvious choices – Jay Leno and Jeremy Clarkson – provide some great comic relief, whilst the inclusion of Phil McGraw is more than a little mystifying. I can only think that he was enlisted to bump up the audience potential in the US, because having his own particular brand of stating-the-obvious-through-pseudo-psychobabble whilst Bana watches with rapt attention is simply embarrassing. To make matters worse, ‘Dr Phil’ gets the most screen time of the three.
Once you block out the nostalgic excesses of the voiceover and Dr Phil’s ‘insight’ this is a great documentary. The film isn’t without its twists – it’s amazing where the story takes us – and most importantly there’s tonnes of footage at the filmmakers’ disposal. Love the Beast becomes quite cinematic in its more powerful moments.Rating: