Netflix just released a documentary about F1 legend and hero-of-my-childhood Michael Schumacher. Created by the trio of Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker and Michael Wech, it has been received with a modicum of positivity. While not a remarkable piece of filmmaking, as a major fan of MSC I found it to be a nostalgic and at times thoroughly tragic trod down memory lane.
The movie takes us from Michael’s financially-stricken youth to his first title for Ferrari, before fast-forwarding through the next ten+ years. It makes some sense, because most of the strong feelings F1 fans have toward him were shaped in those early years, but it also highlights how ineffective it can be to distill both the racer and the person in under two hours. The wider focus on just telling as much of the story as possible would have been helped by picking-and-choosing key moments and honing in on their details, making for more memorable story-telling.
What does help the documentary stand out are one or two scenes of archival footage that haven’t been easily available in the past, as well as the touching input from Michael’s wife, Corinna, and their children, Gina and (especially) Mick. The tragedy of having lived your professional life in a high-risk environment only to suffer a life-changing accident when you finally decided to commit fully to your family is gut-wrenching. Even more so when seeing how tightly knit the Schumachers are and the father-son relationship that Mick yearns for. Michael’s fate pains me endlessly.
Comparisons to the highly acclaimed Asif Kapadia documentary on Senna (2010) are inevitable and they shed a dim light on what was achieved here. While I enjoyed the dramatic flair in the former, Senna being an out and out hagiography doesn’t work in its favour, even if it makes for a good viewing. That being said, Kapadia uses archival footage better, is more effective in editing and gets better insights from his crop of talking heads.
To that I’d add that not very long ago I reviewed Heroes, a little known movie directed by Manish Pandey, who wrote Senna. In that one, Schumacher was very much present through the experiences of former friends and competitors. It had its own shortcomings, but it struck a heavier emotional blow than the Netflix documentary – and also hinted at what could have made for a more interesting viewing than the retelling of a man and his career.
Ultimately, Schumacher still has a lot to say and it will introduce generation Drive To Survive to the racer who epitomized this for two decades. There was just a lot of headroom here to get to know this complex, controversial and groundbreaking champion in more detail, which is why it leaves a hint of frustration in its wake. 7