Saturday, June 20, 2009

REVIEW: Four Minutes

I recently found a "Top 10" List from another Netflix user/runner who suggested enough movies for me to keep doing these movie reviews every week for months. The latest film on the list is 4 Minutes.

This 2005 film stars Jamie MacLachlan as Sir Roger Bannister and Christopher Plummer as Archie Mason. It begins as Bannister enrolls at Exeter College with the intention to study Medicine and his father expressing his opinion of the mile as the perfect race.

As a made for TV movie, it does suffer from some expected drawbacks. It is relatively short at about 90 minutes and not suprisingly feels rushed at times as the screenwriters attempt to compress his entire athletic career into an hour and a half. MacLachlan as Bannister was enjoyable, stiff at times, but a relatively accurate depiction according to some other reviews I have read.

The love interests in the film are somewhat contrived, but I will say that one scene that I particularly enjoyed is when Bannister and his future wife Moyra Jacobson, played by Amy Rutherford, are on a treadmill of his own design and he teaches her to walk on it. Without spoiling it, the scene speaks to me of the simple pleasure both of running and of and being with someone whom he loves.

The interaction that Bannister has with his medical mentor I had a particular connection with because I can see many of my professional experiences reflected in it, including the asides that are made about how much time he spends "running in circles". Bannister rejects many of the common wisdoms of training and coaching to make scientific study of his own body and its performance. In doing so, he embodies a sense of personal accomplishment and achievement that I feel when I run, since I typically do so (physically) alone. Granted, I have the support of and connection with other runners through podcasts, blogs, and websites, but in the end, like Bannister, I spend a lot of time running by myself.

It made me chuckle to see the depiction of Bannister's treadmill as a torture device, and through its use he comes to describe himself as both Dr. Frankenstein as well as "his own monster".

Others have also noted the historical inaccuracies (or artistic licenses) in the film such as exaggerations of the weather on May 5, the fictional coach character, and meeting his wife years too early. I found these unobtrusive to the story and did not detract from the film.

Extras on the DVD include an interview with Dr. Bannister and Chris Chataway. The interviews include three wonderful observations. The first, from Bannister is of his earliest memory of running, and how the joy of being able to run fast was all he could remember. The second, from Chataway, is how Bannister's career, pressure from peers, the media, and his countrymen had built him up to win gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Had fate taken him that route, and he HAD won, that he would have likely retired from running, returned to Medicine, and we would not likely know his name from that of the winners in 1948 or 1956. He further notes that it is awfully hard to know what events in life are good luck and which are bad. Third, Chataway depicts Bannister as the last of an era of amateurs. This based on the fact that Bannister's life ambition and self-described greatest accomplishment was to be a superb physician, and happened to, as a part-time athlete, establish a legacy as one of the greatest runners of his time.

Bottom Line: This is a compelling dramatization of a man's incredible achievement in sport as an self-driven amateur (if you're looking for a documentary, go rent a documentary). So far, it is my favorite "based on real events" movie about running and I'd imagine that the next time I toe the line, I will certainly remind myself to
"knock the bastard off."

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