Essentially a feature-length In Memoriam reel, this entertaining Formula One documentary thrills us with its whizzy editing while it traces the sport's deadly legacy. It took some 45 years after F1's inception in 1950 for proper safety guidelines to be implemented, so watching the parade of iconic drivers, living and dead, is often quite emotional. And the film tells this story with a pumping kinetic style.
Motor racing has a long history in Europe, becoming a proper sport with the birth of Formula One in 1950. But as car-building technology developed, the safety systems didn't keep pace. So drivers were racing at double the speed without up-to-date barriers, safety equipment and emergency procedures. Between 1968 and 1974 alone, the sport lost such iconic drivers as Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt, Roger Williamson, Francois Cevert and Peter Revson in terrible crashes. Over the years the regulations were changed, but it wasn't until Ayerton Senna's shocking death in 1994 that the entire system was overhauled. And no driver has been killed in an F1 Grand Prix since.
In addition to Fassbender's enthusiastic narration, the line-up of on-screen interviewees is seriously impressive, with a collection of champions, team leaders, businessmen, journalists and others recounting their memories as the film presents a chronological history of the sport. Director-editor Crowder ramps everything up as he mixes archive film and stills with thundering music to get the adrenaline pumping. Many of these sequences generate a lot of vroom-vroom energy, even if the video trickery sometimes gets too flashy. Intriguingly, the film's most riveting segment is a single take with no edits, shot from Senna's helmet as he does a qualifying lap in Monaco.
There's also a tonal problem, as the film is assembled as a celebration of a hugely popular global phenomenon, even as it focuses on the fatal accidents. Veering wildly from champagne-popping celebrations to shots of grieving widows, the movie has to constantly remind us that these drivers are daredevils who know the risks involved. And since the film is so resolutely pro-racing, it only barely touches on the more telling darker sides of the story, including the corporate feuds and harsh business decisions that made racing so dangerous to begin with.