Oscar Movie Month: "Chariots of Fire" Review

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Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.
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Oscar Movie Month: "Chariots of Fire" Review

-- Rating: PG
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 9, 1981
Directed by: Hugh Hudson
Genre: Drama/History/Sport

Older films have a tendency to look a little dated over time, and while "Chariots of Fire" is no exception, the film remains as powerful today as it did thirty years ago. The film, which gets its title from a poem by William Blake, will tug at the heartstrings of anyone watching.

Set in the early 1920s, the film focuses on the relationship between Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson, "Gandhi") and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross, "A Common Man"). Eric is a devout Christian from Scotland who wants to win a gold medal at the 1924 Olympics to prove that God helped him on his path. Abrahams, a Jewish, believes that running will help him show that he is equal to those around him. "Chariots of Fire" shows the problems that Abrahams faces as antisemitic feelings sweep the world and depicts how Liddell combines his love of God with his passion for running.

The two men meet early in the film when they race against each other, and Abrahams is so upset at the loss that he accepts help from Sam (Ian Holm), who trained professionally in the past. The film then shows the troubles that the two face. Other runners are not happy about running with a Jewish man, and Liddell's family looks down at him when his racing causes him to miss church. All of these issues take center stage until the two land on the British team and head to the Olympics.

Creating a film based on true events is sometimes a difficult task. Screenwriters tend to spend too much time on the backstory of the characters, or else the screenwriters skip some of the defining moments in a character's life. Collin Welland, the screenwriter of "Chariots of Fire," did a smart job of combining all the necessary elements to bring the story to life. Welland, who won an Oscar for his script, didn't shy away from showing the traumatic events that pushed both men into running, but he did a phenomenal job of showing the successes that both men also experienced.

"Chariots of Fire" swept the Oscars the year it received nominations, winning awards for costume design, original score, picture, writing, and directing, while Holm won the Best Supporting Actor award. Watching the film today, it's easy to see why it was such a hit with critics and film lovers alike. The sweeping epic combines real-life events with strong acting and a story that will keep sports fans, and even those who dislike sports, entertained. It even has an iconic theme song that later appeared in dozens of television shows and movies. As soon as the song starts playing, it will make anyone watching sit up and take notice.

One of the reasons why the film is such a success is that it focuses its story on two underdogs, and who doesn't love an underdog? Neither man seems like the type of person that others would willingly seek out as a friend, but both have something special that makes viewers root for them over the other characters in the film. Abrahams comes across as a bit more of an underdog, especially given the rise of Nazism that would follow the Olympics. The film shies away from broaching that topic, but it will leave some to wonder what happened to Abrahams after the events of the film.

"Chariots of Fire" has something for everyone. The film showcases the training that each man went through, leading to some amazing action scenes as the men race each other. It also delves into the history of Britain, especially the differences between the class systems at that time. Some viewers will pick up on the familial issues that plague Liddell, while others will identify with the racism that Abrahams faces every day. No matter who watches the film, everyone walks away feeling something different.

The film first appeared in theaters in 1981, and it frequently appears on television when athletes compete in the Olympics. Some viewers might find themselves stopping to watch it again when they come across it on television because the film has such a powerful message. "Chariots of Fire" tells viewers that nothing is insurmountable and that anyone can overcome the adversities that he or she faces in life. "Chariots of Fire" is the kind of film that viewers can watch time and again and catch something new upon each viewing. The classic underdog story, great acting, amazing music, and fantastic directing helped this film withstand the tests of time, which led to the American Film Institute naming it one of the best movies of all time.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars