Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Fire

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I have not seen this movie in 41 years, since it was in theaters on its way to winning Best Picture over Raiders of the Lost Ark and Reds (still on the bucket list). My main childhood memories were of two things: Vangelis' awe-inspiring synth score, and my disappointment that the movie seemed to be building to a big Abrahams vs. Liddell race in the Olympics, only for it not to happen because that's how events played out in real life.

Watching it again all these decades later, I have to wonder just how much heavy lifting that Vangelis score did to turn Chariots into a box office hit and Oscar juggernaut. It's not that the film is bad; I was engaged throughout, and certain sequences were rousing in the exact way you hope a sports movie will be. It's just terribly messy in the way that it introduces various characters and pursues their arcs. (On the former, it doesn't help that Harold Abrahams' three BFFs from Cambridge all look a bit alike.) The two most important conflicts — Abrahams is running to spite the English establishment for its anti-Semitism, Liddell is doing it to spread the holy word of his God — are established early and followed well throughout, but lots of other ideas and relationships drift vaguely in and out of the story. It's a movie more of moments — Lord Lindsay using champagne glasses to measure his work on the hurdles, or Harold's coach Sam enjoying his player's success away from the stadium — than as a whole, I think.

(Also? It was funny to watch this not long after revisiting Breaking Away for the 70s sports movies episode of Screen Drafts, since Dennis Christopher appears briefly here as one of the American runners. It's like the success of Breaking Away briefly typecast him as an athlete, when that's really not what he's played for the rest of his career.)