An Ode to Jonah Lomu’s ‘Chasing Great’

Richie McCaw biopic Chasing Great has caught greatness by taking the #1 spot in the New Zealand Box Office over the weekend. It’s a superb success that really speaks to the love our nation has for the All Black champion.

The film itself, however, has less weight than a nose hair’s shadow. In his review, Steve wasn’t convinced that there was enough in McCaw’s story to justify a feature-length film and – despite how badly I need my NZ passport renewed – I’m with him 100%.

(Though the film isn’t nearly as depressing as upcoming Warriors doco Chasing Eight. Boom. Mic drop. Try the veal.)

I’m torn about this. On one hand, it’s always fantastic to see Kiwis flocking to Kiwi films in Kiwi cinemas. On the other, it’s eternally frustrating to be reminded of similar stories that never got a fair shot at chasing similar greatness.

This week reminded me of the Jonah Lomu film, Anger Within.

Lomu’s story has great arcs – significant highs AND lows – that make his tale dynamic. Hearing in his own words how difficult it was growing up in South Auckland where violence was the norm (both outside and inside the home) immediately provokes you into wondering about his journey to international fame. It’s a life story filled with mountains to climb, and I haven’t even mentioned his wobbly ABs debut or the sickness that struck him in 1996.

Compare that to Chasing Great. McCaw starts off as an ordinary kid who’s great at rugby, to being an ordinary bloke who’s great at rugby, until finally he’s an ordinary bloke who’s a great All Black. That last part is turned into an acronym – GAB – which is as profound as his horizontal journey gets.

The film easily proves that McCaw is a great man who has achieved something great, but great things don’t automatically make for great films. That’s why no one’s made a documentary on me eating a stack of hash browns at the McDonald’s Queen Street at 2am while knee-wobblingly drunk – easily the greatest feeling in my life.

McCaw also isn’t that comfortable being open with most people. This isn’t an observation; Richie outright states it. He’s free to have emotional reservations in the public eye (I like that about him) but when that subject is equally reserved on camera, it makes for a pretty bland movie experience – especially in a sports film where he and his team are the opposite of underdogs.

Jonah’s openness in Anger Within cracks into greater revelations about the man. He expresses with clarity how he carried his family hardships with him, the way he released that on the field, the belief that Wesley College saved his life, his stance on religion, and the legacy he wanted to leave behind.

That last part, in particular, is especially moving today. It relates to his efforts getting the Rugby Sevens into the Olympic and how proud he was that their team secured it for Rio 2016. Given how much that meant for first-time gold-medalists Fiji, I couldn’t help but imagine Jonah’s reaction had he been here to witness it.

It’s the kind of thought that makes your lip quiver.

Of course, this was not a turn-of-events the filmmakers planned. French directors Frédéric Khan and Stephane Le Goff paid more focus on Lomu’s status as an international rugby superstar. With back-to-back-to-back footage of Jonah being a bulldozer with legs, you are quickly reminded why the globe put the spotlight on him. Many union greats from all over the world share their thoughts on Jonah’s impact – there’s even an interview with the respectfully humble fellow Jonah ran over scoring that try against England.

To be fair to Chasing Great, it does this same thing fairly well – it’s just that Lomu had more impact at this point and time. Lomu and McCaw also give solid insights to the mental aspects of being a rugby player but – again – Lomu’s thoughts have more relevance. He charts his ‘mental game’ down to a science, fully aware of how the opposition perceived him as a physical threat. But he hands it to South Africa’s 1995 team who, as Jonah put it, played the greatest mental game of all – bringing out Nelson Mandela.

There’s so much more to Jonah Lomu’s story that makes Anger Within an absorbing watch. The only big thing it lacks – especially in comparison to Chasing Great – is technical finesse. There are no vivid re-enactments, there’s nothing massively creative going on visually, and the sound design is pretty iffy in parts.

Despite the TV quality of the overall package, at least this French production saw it fit to tell Jonah’s story. Years later, directors Justin Pemberton and Michelle Walshe put in a hellishly solid effort to make McCaw’s story sound great and look great on the big screen. And here I sit, bummed out that we weren’t able to put in the same quality for Lomu’s story.

‘Anger Within’ is available on DVD and On Demand

Find movie times for ‘Chasing Great’ in a cinema near you