Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Chariots of Fire

Film #204

THE PLOT

Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.

Year 1, Day 201

BEFORE: Chariots of Fire is next in the Oscar chain and is the winner of the 1982 Best Picture. The film, a “British historical drama” according to Wikipedia, was also nominated for six other Academy Awards winning three more: Best Original Screenplay, Original Score, and Costume Design (in addition to Best Picture).

AFTER: My how disappointing Chariots of Fire is. This is the film with the iconic theme song and, like Amadeus yesterday, is based on true events. Based on the plot alone Chariots of Fire would seem like the clear winner especially compared with a film like Amadeus - Olympic runners vs. 18th century opera. But as it turns out, opera is much more entertaining than a bunch of athletes are.

I have many disappointments about this film but before getting into specifics I’d like to talk about my general feeling of the film. Chariots of Fire is just downright boring. Nothing seems to happen in the course of two hours. There’s all these different people you are introduced to, one happens to be Jewish and one happens to be Christian, but that doesn’t seem to be important. Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is the Jewish student who runs as a way to fight anti-Semitism and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) is the Christian missionary runs because he sees it as a way to honor God. However, the only anti-Semitism you really see is from the Cambridge University masters (John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson) who rarely appear and Liddell’s faith only becomes important at the end when he refuses to race on Sunday (the Sabbath). There seems to be no purpose or drive for Abrahams and Liddell to be running. To me it boils down to, “They can run fast so they’ll run fast.” All the backstory and reasoning the filmmakers try to put behind it just falls flat and is a whole bunch of boring filler.

Abrahams and Liddell also seem to be dazed and confused. There are many reaction shots or even monologue/dialogue scenes where the way these characters act is just painful to watch. Their facial expressions are vacant of all feeling and don’t really portray their emotional states. It would be like seeing a young child at a boardroom meeting - completely uncomfortable and a strong feeling that they are not where they should be. These men are clearly runners and they are good at what they do, but everything else about them just does not fit their character and as a result just makes for awkward times.

In addition to the characters and their story, the structure and the editing of the film can be quite baffling at times. I’m willing to ignore the bookends of the film which reminded me of Saving Private Ryan. Instead of an elderly Private Ryan remembering his deceased friend in a cemetery, there are a bunch of people (that I still have no idea who they are) in a Church remembering the lives of Abrahams and Liddell. But again, I’ll ignore that and just chalk it up to me giving the film the benefit of the doubt. However, there are many other scenes, Abrahams final 100 meter dash most of all, that just shocked me as to how appalling they were. For all the previous races in the film, they were cut in a dramatic way, drawing out the short ~10 second races into much longer, semi-suspenseful scenes. So when Abrahams’ final race came and it was just a wide shot of the entire race, in real-time, my jaw literally dropped open in shock. I couldn’t believe that after everything I saw, after all the build-up to this all-important race that I actually was getting a bit excited for, there was no added tension or dramatization. No; it was just one wide shot of the race. My interest finally rose for once in the film and then it’s gone in an instant. Shortly after the race is finished, the film does go back and replay the race, intercutting it with reaction shots and using slow-mo to add suspense, but by this time I lost all interest. I knew who won and could care less about the emotions running through Abrahams’ and the other characters’ minds.

Honestly, I’m amazed at how Chariots of Fire won, let alone be nominated for, the Academy Award for Best Picture. Looking at the other nominees I can say for certain that Raiders of the Lost Ark is a much better film in every aspect and probably the remaining three as well (though I haven’t seen the others). If you do stick with the film until the end, there is still some suspense still left. They blew Abrahams’ race but Liddell’s still gets the heart racing a tiny bit. But save for this minor excitment and Richard Griffith’s (last seen in Gandhi) and Ian Holm’s (last seen in The Aviator) minor supporting roles, Chariots of Fire doesn’t have anything going for it.

RATING: 2 out of 5