Niki Lauda was an Austrian Formula One driver in the 70s and 80s most famous for suffering an horrific crash at the Nurburgring in 1976. His scalp, upper face and right ear were burned off, he inhaled toxic fumes that poisoned his body, and his lungs didn't work. Not only did Lauda survive bet he went on to race at Monza just 33 days after the crash, placing fourth. He later retired from Formula One and went on to be a successful entrepreneur and retained an influence in racing.
His story, and particularly his rivalry with the flamboyant British driver, James Hunt, was recently told in fictionalised and simplified form by Ron Howard in RUSH. And the wider story of how this crash was part of an era in which the car tech advanced faster than the safety controls, was told in the superb documentary, 1. That doc was a comprehensive and beautifully made story of the evolution of Formula One racing as something that could kill you to the safer sport we enjoy today.
Calling this documentary "The Untold Story" makes a great claim about its insight but I'm said to report that LAUDA is both badly made and clunky in its exposition. It relies on talking head interviews and old interviews from the 70s with very little racing footage. We don't feel the excitement of the sport. In fact the whole thing feels like a cross between an infomercial on racing safety and hagiography. There are extensive interviews with Niki Lauda, which is great, but he's always just sitting behind his desk and never over-cut with racing footage. And the interviews from the 70s feel very staged.
The result is a movie about an exciting sport that's pretty dull. The most interesting interview is actually Sir Jackie Stewart. I suspect the movie is also robbed of its tension and pace by the odd choice of splitting it into five chapters in which the crash come first. It would have been much better to build up to it, increasing the audience's tension, and then have the redemption of improving safety thereafter. Worst of all, there's a ludicrously portentous American voiceover that does exposition and sounds like one of those Hollywood action movie trailer voices - "It was a world without hope, and then came a hero...!" So overall, if you're interested in the history of Formula One safety, watch the documentary 1. There's nothing new to see here.
LAUDA: THE UNTOLD STORY has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated PG for mild injury detail and footage of motor racing crashes. The film was released in Austria last October and is available on streaming services in the UK this month.
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