Thursday, 1 June 2017

McLaren: Film Review

McLaren: Film Review

Director: Roger Donaldson

To Formula 1 fans, there's no disputing the dominance of the McLaren racing team.

Time after time, the team's taken countless victories and launched many a driver into pole position on the track and in fans' hearts.
McLaren: Film Review

Matthew Metcalfe's documentary about New Zealander Bruce McLaren though may find it a slightly more taxing ask to push past the critical acclaim of Senna, perhaps the ultimate racing documentary ever committed to celluloid.

But for those not really in the know, McLaren's thrill of the race really does still lie in what happens on the track, rather than what goes on off it.

Unfortunately, it's here that this brisk and pacy doco ever so slightly comes up wanting.

Focussing on Bruce McLaren's early years initially, Metcalfe's movie lines up plenty of work colleagues and grease monkey buddies to extol his virtues. And they do an admirable job of passionately explaining why McLaren's attitude and ethos saw so much success on the track.

With drivers referred to as "the Spitfire pilots of the 50s and 60s", Metcalfe cleverly assembles archive footage and stages recreations of the era to create a tapestry of a man who went from the crippled kid with Perthes disease to trailblazer behind the wheel.

There's a great fist to be had from the recollections and recreations, but, at times, this doco doesn't give the more personal moments the chance to breathe and take on their own life during the story. It probably doesn't help that this covers a lot in its 90 minute run-time, and perhaps a more distinct focus on either the man or the team's evolution may have proved slightly more thrilling.
McLaren: Film Review
McLaren: Film Review

It's the personal side of McLaren that feels sadly wanting.

Granted, excerpts of letters back home from McLaren to his parents while he was away in the UK in the late 50s give tantalising glimpses into his psyche, and McLaren's wife (Miss Caroline Bay from Timaru) fills in some of the blanks, but there is clearly more to be gleaned from the man's personal history. A great amount of footage lingers on the daughter that was born to the racing legacy, but nothing is heard from her, a glaring omission from a voice that could have breathed life into how the family felt with Bruce always being away from home or workaholic.

And McLaren's initial health issues which saw him confined to a gurney, with weights strapped on his legs to deal with a hip issue are simply glossed over after being laid bare. It's a bit of a leap to see this and then a few frames later, McLaren's behind the wheel of a car, racing away. There's no doubting his passion, but sometimes the journey doesn't quite hit all the relevant destinations.

More successful though is the life on the track ethos and story which the film-makers are clearly more interested in bringing to light. With a frenetic speed and some in cockpit camera work, the thrill of the race-track and the adrenaline of the driving is brought vividly to life, and the breakneck danger cleverly realised.
McLaren: Film Review

But McLaren never fully glorifies the racing, and the solemnity of one driver's death, before McLaren's own untimely passing, are given the space needed to lend this movie some of the emotional heft that is lacking earlier on. Much like Senna's awful and unnecessary death that happens with a simple crunching sound in the original doco, the tragic demise of McLaren packs a powerful wallop later on. And certainly, as the engineers of the team recount the moments after his fatal crash at Goodwood Circuit in June 1970 weigh heavy with such openness and raw recollections that it almost feels intrusive to see them suffer still.

McLaren is by no means a disaster - it's a solid tale of the Kiwi mentality and pluck behind the wheel that gives voice to one of perhaps our lesser known stories and heroes. But by making this doco gloss over the moments that would more fully define the man at the centre, the film still leaves you feeling he's a nice guy, but an enigma to anyone other than those who knew him.

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