In selected cinemas nationwide now.
Chances are even though with even the most cursory knowledge of motor racing will be familiar with the McLaren Formula One team. After Ferrari, they’re the longest-running and arguable most famous constructor in the sport, even if they are enduring a period in the doldrums currently. To the general public, less is known about the man who founded the team. Fellow Kiwi Roger Donaldson (The World’s Fastest Indian) sets out to tell the story of the racing and engineering genius who achieved much before his untimely death at Goodwood in 1970 at the age of only thirty-two, but whose legacy is immeasurable.
Artistically told through archive footage, dramatic reconstruction and talking head interviews with those who knew him best, McLaren’s life is lovingly told from his humble beginnings in Auckland, through his childhood battle with Perthes’ disease in his hip, and his eventual racing career and the establishment of the team that went on to sweep all before them.
Those looking for a real deconstruction of the man will be somewhat disappointed. This isn’t anything like the close examination of Asif Kapadia’s seminal, innovative Senna. McLaren is a loving tribute more than anything, skirting perilously close to an outright hagiography. Although surely most viewers can’t fail to be moved by reminiscences of his friends, family and colleagues. It’s clear how painful and raw his loss still is to them, nearly fifty years on.
As a portrait of a man’s passion there is a lot to admire here, and for fans of motor racing this exhaustive study of his career and achievements will be a joy to watch, with beautiful archive footage of many of the sports personalities of the period. While it’s nice to revel in those classic years, there’s always the sting of knowing how many died doing what they loved. As usual with these documentaries, Jackie Stewart makes an appearance to eulogise; a man who has lost more friends than most outside of a career in the military. Come the inevitable, fateful ending, such a picture of Bruce McLaren has been drawn that the poignancy shines through, even though it’s presented in an obvious, workaday fashion.
How well McLaren will sit with those who aren’t outright gear heads is hard to say. Senna worked by drawing several strands together, looking at bigger themes of obsession in a way that presented its subject as somehow universal. Donaldson’s film is much more reverential and uninterested in the wider context of these sport. The issue of safety in the sport for example is only referred to as the cause of its subject’s death; the wider discussion is left untouched. McLaren is nicely made and is entertaining and engaging. Perhaps ironically it just could do with a bit more oomph.