Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Movie review: Chasing Great featuring former All Black captain Richie McCaw

As a movie, Chasing Great reminds us that Richard Hugh McCaw is one impressive bloke. He flies gliders and helicopters. He cooks. He does cryptic crosswords. And in his old job he was [insert superlative of your choice] All Blacks captain, ever.

As a movie, though, Chasing Great also reminds that over-achievers are tricky doco subjects.

It's not that it doesn't lack for insight, emotion or story. But essentially Chasing Great is a faith-based movie designed for followers of our national religion.

It also feels like it's been born from a world of corporate video and brand management. You get the sneaking suspicion we're being sold something just as much as being told something. If a certain sports brand didn't put any money into this, then they've got off cheap.

Richie McCaw will appear in the documentary Chasing Great, produced by Justin Pemberton and Michelle Walsh. Photo / Supplied
Richie McCaw will appear in the documentary Chasing Great, produced by Justin Pemberton and Michelle Walsh. Photo / Supplied

But if you're a Richie fan, then your appreciation of the man will possibly elevate to devotion after this handsome hagiography.

Yes, it promises a level of behind-the-scenes access, its makers having spent the year with McCaw leading up to his last game and final victory at last year's Rugby World Cup Final.

But it's hard to detect an unguarded moment among McCaw's interviews or those who worked with him.

"He's a complicated rooster," offers All Blacks coach Steven Hansen who adds McCaw got to be himself while playing rugby on the field, rather than being the famous rugby star off it.

Certainly, Greg McGee made him interesting in his terrific 2012 authorised biography, a book which ended on a resonant note - the RWC final of 2011.

The movie shifts that story to RWC 2015 where McCaw's new goal is to be captain of the first team to win the competition back-to-back and go out on a high. That's understandable. But the "or else?" isn't as dramatically loaded as it was four years previous.

Co-director Justin Pemberton already has two remarkable sports biographies to his name - Love, Speed and Loss about motorcyclist Kim Newcombe and The Golden Hour about Peter Snell and Murray Halberg at the Rome Olympics. Those had great stories at their core and period settings to bring to life.

This is more character study, a search for the zen of McCaw and how he went from the failed RWC campaign of 2007 to using the Webb Ellis Cup for weight training and winning his first one with a broken foot.

Richie McCaw will appear in the documentary Chasing Great, produced by Justin Pemberton and Michelle Walsh. Photo / Supplied
Richie McCaw will appear in the documentary Chasing Great, produced by Justin Pemberton and Michelle Walsh. Photo / Supplied

Which means much discussion about goal-setting, mental skills, and the qualities of leadership all of which Chasing Great makes stimulating if not fascinating.

There's also plenty of time spent on McCaw's idyllic Waitaki Valley childhood, where it appears, yes, his mother dressed him funny and he was gently persuaded by his Dad and local club coach to take his rugby seriously.

Tellingly, the walls of McCaw's parents' home are a shrine to their son's achievements, while his own city townhouse doesn't show any reminders of his playing days.

And they don't seem to mind when their son comes home to visit and lands his chopper in the front paddock.

Yes, Chasing Great certainly benefits cinematically from his passion for aviation, especially when he's gliding over the Southern Alps out of Omarama, his dad having piloted the tow-plane and let him soar away - perhaps a nice visual metaphor for the family support of his career at ground level too.

Visually, it's certainly impressive even if you just know there's going to be a slow-motion All Blacks run out of the tunnel (about five minutes in) followed by a slow motion haka (two minutes later).

And also helping it feel like a movie is a restrained SJD soundtrack that holds back on the button marked "triumph" and the nice touch of using Lorde's cover of Tears for Fears' Everyone Wants to Rule the World over the final credits.

Richie McCaw in a scene from the documentary Chasing Great. Photo / Supplied
Richie McCaw in a scene from the documentary Chasing Great. Photo / Supplied

All applied to some deft editing, that makes Chasing Great a handsome piece of work geared for the big screen.

What the movie can't do -and what McGee's book did - was make us see the big games from McCaw's perspective.

The high-definition collages of game footage are certainly impressive. But Chasing Great feels like what's said on the field, stays on the field. If McCaw got to be himself while he was on the paddock, here, that guy is still elusive.

Hell of an All Black though. And this is a fittingly epic This Is Your Life.

Directors: Justin Pemberton, Michelle Walshe
Rating: G
Running time: 105 mins
Verdict: McCaw's blockbuster edition of This is Your Life

- NZ Herald

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