From puppy to sage old dog, Enzo, the Golden retriever, (voice Kevin Costner) is our eyes and ears into the life of racecar driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia). Racing is all Denny has ever wanted. He is a natural with quick responses and the ability to anticipate the turns. He is an instructor at his mentor, Don Kitch’s (Gary Cole), driving school as he picks up a ride here and there and waits for his big break into Formula One racing. Enzo is right there with him at the track, reviewing the films at home and studying Denny; remarking on Denny’s words of wisdom and insights.
Denny meets Eve (Amanda Seyfried), an ESOL teacher and the attraction is immediate and obvious even to Enzo. As he comments, “He is attracted to her. I bet she may even take a bath every day.” And so their lives expand as Amanda becomes a part of Denny’s and Enzo’s life. Amanda and Denny marry and she encourages him to pursue his racing much to the chagrin of her wealthy parents, Trish and Maxwell (Cathy Baker and Martin Donovan).
It is with Amanda’s pregnancy that Enzo makes some of his most endearing commentary. He has grown to love Amanda and is amazed that she can “grow another person inside her body. I hope it looks like me.” Daughter Zoe joins the family and life could not be better as Denny begins driving more and the four of them enjoy an idyllic life filled with love and promise. But there are always twists and turns in life as on the track, and so this is true for Denny and his little family. Life takes a bitter turn but it is how Denny and Enzo react that gives hope.
Kevin Costner’s gravely monotone provides Enzo the perfect narrative voice. It is as if he is carrying on a running conversation with the audience as the story plays out on the screen. Enzo is the curator of Denny’s wisdom and the analogies between life and racing. They are as Enzo says, “Imprinted on my soul.” “The race is never won on the first turn” encourages perseverance after one of life’s bumps in the road.
The cinematography is brilliant. The racing scenes reminded me of the Steve McQueen/ Paul Newman movies of the ‘70s, with archival footage of the actual races placed throughout for Denny to study and hone his skillset. Many moments are viewed through Enzo’s eyes and a much lower vantage point! But through Enzo’s eyes, life is pure and uncomplicated. He see things clearly without the overtones of deceit and manipulation of the humans.
Personal insight is an ongoing theme. “Create your own conditions. Predict your own destiny.” These jewels promote contemplation as we apply them to the action on the screen and to our own lives.
There is a wonderful thread worth mentioning woven throughout the film. Enzo dreams of being like the dogs in Mongolia. Yes, he wants to run the fields and plains and then when he dies for his body to be buried in the tall grasses and if he is found worthy, for his spirit to come back in a boy. That is why he watches Denny so closely, learning the lessons and knowledge needed. “I would be a fine man,” he confides.
Don Kitch in describing Denny to the Ferrari drivers’ coordinator says he possesses those qualities of the best drivers: balance, anticipation and patience. Perhaps Enzo, a dog of wonder, insight and intelligence, as he guides us through the lives of Denny, Eve and daughter Zoe, teaches us these truths. Life, as in racing, is better if you keep an even balance, anticipate the variables, and plan for the obstacles that will inevitably appear. Do all that and life will become like mastering the art of driving in the rain.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is rated PG for thematic material.