You never forget your first love, which in the case of Eric Bana was a 1974 Ford XB Falcon Couple nicknamed “the Beast.” In the auto-romantic Love the Beast, Bana documents his lifelong amour for his ride, a model which first entranced him while watching Australia’s famed Bathurst race in 1977, and again two years later by its appearance in Mad Max. As a teen, Bana convinced his father to buy him one, instigating an affair that soon also ensnared his mates as well, as the actor recounts how working on the car became their collective adolescent pastime and turned his parents’ garage into their de facto clubhouse. Three decades and three overhauls later, Bana and his beloved auto enter Tasmania’s renowned five-day off-track Targa rally (which he had completed years prior), though Beast isn’t after the drama of Bana’s race performance, but, instead, the way in which his participation proves a further extension of his deep affinity for the car.
Through narration, interviews, and cinematographic fawning over their chassis, classic American cars are celebrated for their imperfect character, which makes them seem vibrantly alive. Similarly, the act of working under the hood is depicted as an act of spiritual bonding that for Bana feels akin to a committed relationship—unlike aficionado Jay Leno, who adores his cars while they’re being restored only to leave them in his warehouse so he can move on to the next project. Shots from the tires, hood, bumper, and cab of the speeding Falcon Coupe stirringly complement Bana’s thoughts about the thrill and freedom that he experiences behind the wheel, and address his passion far more evocatively than his conversations with Dr. Phil, whose obvious observations drive the sentimental proceedings to the brink of squishiness. Still, archival photos and clips of a teenage Bana with the Beast, as well as the film’s portrait of the car’s role in maintaining his connection to childhood friends (who continually reunite to work on the vehicle) and his father (who boasts his own half-century-long affair with a T-Bird) affectionately express the potent allure that classic American muscle cars had, and continue to have, on the male imagination and heart.
Love the Beast @ the Tribeca Film Festival
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.