Love the Beast (2009) dir. Eric Bana
By Alan Bacchus
Before Eric Bana became famous for either his stand up comedy in Australia or his film work in Hollywood, he was a suburban gear head who loved muscle cars. Well, just one car in particular, his own car, a 1974 Ford XB Falcon Hardtop, the same car that (ahem) Mel Gibson rode in Mad Max. 25 years later, now that he’s famous enough and has the clout to make a personal film and himself and his car, this documentary is birthed.
After establishing the background to Bana’s upbringing in Australia and the source of his love for cars the film moves into the structural coat hanger of the story, that is Bana’s participation in a 5 day rally race through Tasmania. Some decent race footage and some genuine speed demon thrills make this section of the film watchable. But the repetitiveness of the message smells just like burning rubber.
Helping to analyze or support Bana is fellow car freak Jay Leno, some British TV personality named Jeremy Clarkson and Dr. Phil McGraw. Dr. Phil makes some thoughtful analysis of Bana’s obsessions, but Jay Leno makes only one joke in the film, otherwise staying as straight-faced as his post Conan debacle interview on Oprah, once again proving that he just isn’t funny at all.
Save for a brief scene on the red carpet premiere of his film ‘Lucky Numbers’ there’s no inward look at Bana’s celebrity and the effect of his career on his obsession with cars. It’s a shame, because why else would we care about someone else’s car unless it was a celebrity’s? The problem lies with the fact that Bana himself is the producer and director and thus unable to provide a true third person perspective on his own life.
Early on one of Bana’s interviewees explains to us how ‘non-car’ people can’t understand why ‘car-people’ can have a genuine relationship to an automobile, which, as non-car person, also explains my thoughts on this film. There isn’t much else going on thematically in Love the Beast that isn’t on the surface or told to us over and over again. Eric loves his car and we should all love it too – not all that fascinating, interesting or thought-provoking unless you’re a gear head like Bana and his mates.
Normally I hate the idea of having a director’s commentary on a documentary, after all, wasn’t the documentary the commentary? But in this case, Bana’s second hand ruminations on the film, the subjects, his cars, his celebrity life greatly enhance the film. Also included on the DVDs are lengthier but forgettable interviews with Bana and Clarkson, as well as a trailer, featuring the awesome Band of Horses song, Is There a Ghost, which unfortunately isn’t featured in the film.