FT Top 100 Films 44: COOL RUNNINGS
Tom Says: The traditional sports film comes in two varieties – sporting hero(es) win and sporting hero(es) lose. Either is a banker; neither is sad. Losing at real actual sports is often sad but tends to be accompanied by a feeling of deflation or irritation, neither of which are emotions that mainstream (or frankly ANY) film is keen on evoking. My suspicion is that this is true even for the plucky underdogs who populate sports films, but you’d hardly know it – their heroic trouncing on the field is generally accompanied by plenty of life lessons/personal triumph/free sex off it.
Cool Runnings deals with a sub-class of loser-as-hero: the sportsman who never had a chance in the first place. Its (true) story of a Jamaican bobsled team at the Winter Olympics is a producer’s dream – Jamaica? HOT COUNTRY; Bobsled? WINTER SPORT!! – k-ching! The drama is clearly not going to arise from whether the JA crew are going to win or not – it’s going to come from whether they’ll even be able to race, and from the various personal crises these people go through on the way.
As you would expect it’s a totally manipulative film: I cheered and cried helplessly in the right places. I also suspect that its portrait of Jamaica is heavily sanitised. But for all that it’s a very funny movie, it takes its setpieces well and is as charming as Hollywood gets. I feel quite strongly that ‘feelgood’ films should get their critical due and I’m glad this list has a fair few of them: anaesthesia is one of the things cinema is very good at, and worth celebrating when done as gently and well as this.