Wednesday, January 12, 2011

1981: Chariots of Fire

This film tells the true story of two British runners, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, and their journey to the 1924 Olympics.  Both are extremely talented, but come from different backgrounds.  Abrahams has had to struggle his whole life to prove that he, as a Jew, is just as good as his predominantly-Christian countrymen; but when it comes to running, he's always been the best.  Liddell, on the other hand, is a devout Christian who is using his talent to glorify God.  They are both determined to win, but when Liddell learns that the qualifying heat is on a Sunday, he refuses to run it because he must keep the Lord's day holy.

It's nice to have an uplifting Best Picture winner every once in a while.  Chariots of Fire manages to be serious and happy at the same time, and it makes me feel better about humanity in general.  This is such a good story, and it's very well-told, in a quiet, understated sort of way.  The soundtrack is at once soothing and epic, which perfectly captures the mood of the whole movie.  The buildup of anticipation before each race is brilliantly created with the use of such film techniques as slow-motion, intense camera angles, and of course the background music.  But while the races are fun to watch, I think the best part of this film is the character development.  It's inspiring to watch them stand up for their ideals in the face of adversity, especially because they are portrayed as very relatable.  Both Abrahams and Liddell are so human that one can't help cheering for both of them, even though Abrahams comes off as a little annoying and Liddell looks absolutely ridiculous when he runs.  Ben Cross and Ian Charleson are perfect for their roles, and the writing definitely helps, as does the plot structure itself.  Because the movie digs very deep into both men's backgrounds, when they do get to the Olympics the audience can fully appreciate how much it means to both of them.

I wouldn't say that this is the best movie I've ever seen - it feels a bit long, and I have trouble differentiating between some of the minor characters, which gets a little confusing - but it's definitely one of the better ones.  And I'm certainly glad that it won Best Picture to remind us that a film doesn't need to be depressing to earn the award.

Next: Gandhi

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