From the wreckers' yard of Smash Palace and, more recently, Anthony Hopkins travelling all the way from Invercargill with his "motorsickle", automotive iconography has popped up frequently in the films of Roger Donaldson.

I'll even lump in Kevin Costner rolling over the bonnet of a moving car in No Way Out, a risky use of his lead that apparently didn't endear Donaldson to studio execs, but epitomises a "roll up your sleeves and just bloody get on with it" attitude shared by both the New Zealand film industry and motorsport legend Bruce McLaren, the subject of Donaldson's first documentary feature.

McLaren's journey from New Zealand beach rallies to the pinnacle of motor racing in both Grands Prix and Les Mans would be an unlikely enough tale merely as a driver. That he founded one of the world's most successful motor racing teams, displaying enormous analytical and managerial nous, makes his life story all the more remarkable - and his untimely passing all the more tragic.

Donaldson charts McLaren's life with an expected mix of archival content, the odd re-enactment, and interviews with colleagues and peers as he whips through the impressively long list of McLaren's achievements. The results are interesting, if not hugely insightful, the main takeaways being his passion and talent, and loyalty he inspired around him. McLaren's many wins entertain in gentle fashion, until Donaldson hits emotional high gear with his subject's final moments and their aftermath.

McLaren stands as more a celebration than sombre eulogy, however, and should hold differing types of appeal to various generations. For older viewers it'll be the retelling of a familiar story of one of their fallen heroes, whereas others may gravitate to the mid-20th-century motorsport environment - a bygone era when Formula 1 didn't cost teams hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and a bunch of Kiwis could dominate the world in a manner that would be impossible today.


Roger Donaldson




Running time:

92 mins


More celebratory rather than revelatory but a solid doco on the Kiwi icon.