Still Cool Runnings
It seems almost inappropriate to discuss this film following the tragic death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, which has cast a shadow over the current Winter Olympics that I doubt will be lifted before the closing ceremony. However, it’s hard to deny that for so many of us the term ‘Winter Olympics’ doesn’t generate images of figure skaters, skiers, lugers or competitors in any other sport. No, we think of a Jamaican bobsleigh team in the classic 1993 film that we all grew up with – Cool Runnings.
This film is definitely more of a classic in the eyes of the fans than the critics, and after re-watching the film, it’s not hard to see why. The acting is, at times, horrible (‘I-am-not-a-boxer! I-am-a-runner!’), the cinematography, although colourful, is never spectacular outside of the odd impressive music montage to annoyingly catchy music, and the direction has the ‘yeah, one take, that’ll do’ feel about it that is rare even in low-budget movies nowadays. What does elevate this movie from the slums that the critics saw it in is the sheer charm and beauty encapsulated by the screenplay and characters.
No character is significantly developed beyond a basic personality flaw that is recitifed by the end of the film, but that doesn’t matter. Derice Bannock (Leon) and Sanka Coffie (Doug E. Doug) have fantastic chemistry and screen presence together. Both Junior Bevil (Rawle D. Lewis) and Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba) round out the team as a pairing whose interaction changes in heartwarming fashion, with the latter’s intimidating figure epitomising his character and making the subplot between the two, as Junior becomes more of a man, not only watchable, but realistic and enjoyable.
Completing the principal cast, and leaving the greatest impression on the audience, is John Candy’s Irving ‘Irv’ Blitzer, who, despite his occasional acting slip – his speech to the executive board could be far more believable – really seems to embody his character perfectly, both visually and in terms of his expression and delivery.
Whilst a cast of strong, eclectic characters is not completely sufficient to make a film a fan favourite, and as such it falls to the charming screenplay to really explain the film’s attraction to audiences.
The opening scenes of training are hilarious, the drama as the Jamaicans compete with the antagonistic Swiss actually borders on being genuinely tense, and the transformation of the characters, alongside the change in mood as the team become contenders, really makes the set up for the conclusion satisfying. No portion of the film feels like a waste, the script is never boring, and by the final run the ‘underdog’ concept feels like it’s at its height – sod Rocky, this is far easier to sympathise with!
The final run itself, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is tragic, dramatic and one of the most heart-warming and memorable moments in cinema history. It’s almost impossible not to smile as the film concludes – for the team, for the coach, and for the lucky egg.
The film is often said to be based on a true story, which is indeed correct, yet numerous cases of cinematic license are present in order to make the film more appropriate for the big screen. Amongst others, every character is wholly fictional, the Jamaicans were not met with such animosity during the competition and the touching conclusion has been slightly over-dramatised in comparison to the truth. Nevertheless, these issues can be easily overlooked as they all contribute to the notion of the friendly underdog that the film embodies.
Kumaritashvili’s death illustrates the dangers underpinning events such as the luge and bobsleigh, and as such a film like Cool Runnings ignores the negatives that are often tragically present. Nevertheless this is what so many of our generation consider when we picture the Winter Olympics – an (almost) true story of four underdogs, set against an energetic soundtrack and a touching screenplay that is almost guaranteed to raise a smile amongst people of all ages.
There are better films out there about winter sports, but very few as enjoyable. When you get bored of waiting for figure skaters and skiers to fall over when watching the real thing, grab your steel drum and watch this film – it’s almost tragic that Jamaica don’t have a bobsleigh team this year for the world to support!