What’s it like to be the top player of a professional sport? Chasing Great shows us a bit about the world of New Zealand rugby superstar Richie McCaw, whose team, the All Blacks, won back-to-back World Cups in 2011 and 2015, a first for rugby powerhouse New Zealand.
Through documentary footage and recreations with actors, we get a peek at McCaw’s formative years, an almost too good to be true life of a farm boy who grew to be a national hero and an international star.
Apart from his amazing ability on the playing field, McCaw’s “aw-shucks” persona cemented his reputation as one of the sport’s most beloved players. Chasing Great is a glowing, full-throated paean to McCaw, who seems unaffected by his celebrity. Watching recreations of scenes from his childhood, the film suggests that it was practically a given that he’d climb to the top of the sports world. Not the biggest or strongest of players, McCaw was a driven individual who planned for success at an early age. As a boy, he wrote down his career goals when encouraged to do so, and they charted his path to being a “GAB” — great All Black.
“…we get a hint of the charges of cheating that were at times leveled at the fair-haired athlete.”
As squeaky clean as the film portrays him to be, and there’s no reason to doubt that he is, opposing teams and their fans may not have exactly reviled him, but they understandably saw him as a dangerous enemy. We get a hint of the charges of cheating that were at times leveled at the fair-haired athlete. They aren’t explored deeply enough to determine whether or not they have any validity, or if it’s just a case of losers weepers.
The film clearly sides with McCaw, who is portrayed as a clever tactician. In one interview, an observer notes that McCaw has a keen sense of where each official draws his own line in the sand, and McCaw would stay just the other side of it.
Like much of the “reality” programming we see these days, Chasing Great straddles the line between documentary and scripted drama. The film abounds with beautifully framed, carefully lighted photography. Scenes of McCaw’s growing years are recreated with actors, and aerial shots of McCaw swooping around in a glider could hardly be more picturesque. In short, it’s a seamless production. It also has a somewhat pumped up soundtrack enhanced with apparently dubbed-in grunts and thuds of bodies colliding, all in the name of making hits and tackles more dramatic.
“…it’s hard not to get swept up into the spirit of the fans and the players.”
Rugby fans, especially those in New Zealand, won’t give a hoot that it’s a hybrid of documentary filmmaking and scripted action. Especially since the effects are not overbearing and tend to smooth off the rough edges and herky-jerky camerawork you might expect to see in the purest of pure documentaries. Fans of the genre, with firm convictions about the veracity of recording facts as they happen, should not expect a cinema verite experience here, however.
Still, the film has lots of exciting moments, even if we know what the outcome will be.
Its main journey is the final years of McCaw’s career, with the climax being the World Cup competition against Australia in 2015. McCaw decided to retire at the end of the season and was determined to come out on top in his last year in the sport.
In all, Chasing Great remains engrossing throughout, offering a close-up look at a very rough and tumble sport. Watching the film, it’s hard not to get swept up into the spirit of the fans and the players. Even for us non-rugby watchers.
Chasing Great (2016) Directed by Justin Pemberton and Michelle Walshe. Written by Justin Pemberton and Michelle Walshe. Starring Richie McCaw.
7 out of 10