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For racing fans, McLaren is a no-brainer.
Australian born New Zealand director Roger Donaldson, better known for Hollywood dramas such as 13 Days and The Bounty, has made his first feature documentary with McLaren, a reverent but fascinating look at the brief life of Kiwi motor racing legend, Bruce McLaren.
This isn’t Donaldson’s first look at the world of motor sports; after all, he put Anthony Hopkins in the saddle for a motorcycle land speed record attempt in The World’s Fastest Indian back in 2005. The director has had a fascination with the field since he was a child – in fact, he saw McLaren race at the Australian Grand Prix when he was a boy – and it certainly shows in the film. Donaldson has amassed a wealth of archival footage, interviews, artifacts and more to tell McLaren’s tale, starting with his formative years learning from his race driver dad, to his apprenticeship in England with the Cooper Factory team, his successes with his own eponymous team, culminating in his tragic – and tragically predictable – car crash death in 1970 at the age of 32.
McLaren the man is a universally lauded by Donaldson’s interview subjects. He was, by the accounts here, a bloke’s bloke, an incredibly decent fellow, first among brothers when he was running his own show, and led a life remarkably free of scandal. His preternatural gift for driving was matched by his skill as a designer and engineer, and we get much insight into how he and his team cobbled together world class racing machines in the McLaren brand’s infancy (today McLaren is one of the most respected institutions in world racing).
That’s actually the most interesting part of the film – the crazily inventive, shoot-from-the-hip, early days of custom design and building, when McLaren’s crew of mechanics and drivers would throw everything against the wall to see what stuck and no ideas were off limits. The sense of discovery and exploration is palpable, and you come away with the strong notion that these guys were literally defining motor racing for generations to come with their experimental noodling in their Woking garage.
What remains abstract, though, is why McLaren and his colleagues and competitors chose to pursue such a stunningly dangerous vocation. Early motor racing was all but a death sport, and McLaren himself is but one of the many casualties referenced or alluded to in the film. Perhaps there is no answer. Perhaps having such skills demands they be tested no matter the risk.
For racing fans, McLaren is a no-brainer. Everyone else will get a decent overview of the man and his world, which certainly holds its own fascination.