Schumacher 2021 Movie Review Netflix
He’s one of the most successful sports figures in history, but few know much about the man inside the car. In Schumacher, a new documentary film debuting on Netflix, we get a rare private look inside the life and career of German Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher. The film profiles his rise from modest beginnings to the pinnacle of his sport.
The Gist: Jordan. LeBron. Tiger. Serena. Brady. Michael Schumacher might not have the kind of one-name recognition with American viewers that some of those stars do, but his career stands up next to almost anyone’s for its length and success. From the early 1990s until his retirement in 2012, Schumacher dominated Formula One racing, leaving the sport with a laundry list of records including [deep breath] the most World Drivers’ Championship titles, most wins, most pole positions, most podium finishes, most fastest laps and most races won in a single season, [exhales] some of which still stand nearly a decade later. Through all that success, though, Schumacher closely guarded his personal life, rarely allowing fans to see the real person behind the trophies. Schumacher changes that, offering a rare personal window into his life, though offering little insight into his current condition after a tragic post-retirement skiing accident.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The most obvious parallel is the award-winning 2010 British documentary Senna, which took a similarly personal look at the life and career of a top F1 racer, in that case the late Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna.
Performance Worth Watching: The backbone of Schumacher is contemporary interviews with figures from the racer’s life and career, who help contextualize his rise; among the most entertaining is former Benetton racing team principal Flavio Briatore, who colorfully marvels at the then-youngster’s early success, noting that he was going up against Ayrton Senna when, “five years before, he had a poster of Senna in the bedroom.”
Memorable Dialogue: “We always used the cheapest equipment available,” Schumacher recalls in an archival interview, noting his modest beginnings in a sport that’s often the province of billionaires and aristocrats. “I fished discarded tires out of the bin, put them on my go-kart and won races with them. I was always glad to have won with the worst and not the best equipment. Having to really fight like that was an additional motivation for me.”
Our Take: To the average American viewer, Formula One racing might be a bit of a mystery, though that’s changing recently, with the Netflix series Drive To Survive and the more widespread broadcast of races creating a new generation of fans. Those new fans are finding a sport that’s compelling both on and off the track—full of thrilling, high-speed action and colorful, aristocratic characters zipping both metaphorically and literally through some of the world’s glitziest locales. Those new viewers, fawning over figures such Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Lando Norris, might find themselves wanting to get acquainted more with the history and legends of the sport, and there might be no better place to start than this well-crafted documentary on the German racing legend.
The story of his success is borderline legend; rising from humble, scrappy beginnings, Schumacher seemingly appeared out of nowhere, getting a spot on a team mid-season after another driver was unavailable. He won his first title with Benetton in 1994, setting off a massive run of success that would last a decade and a half. In 1996, he famously moved to Ferrari—the legendary automaker had struggled in recent decades, failing to win a championship since 1979. Schumacher would change that, winning five straight titles for Ferrari from 2000 to 2004. This drive is a primary focus of Schumacher, and wisely so—it’s the meat of the racer’s career, his own personal dynastic moment.
Like most sports documentaries, most of the film is constructed from archival footage and contemporary interviews; in a media-friendly sport, this means that we see Schumacher even as a teenage kart-racer, just a hungry kid with long-shot dreams of the big time. Figures from both his sporting career and his personal life contextualize these early races well, seeing flashes of his championship personality even at 13 years old. Sadly and by necessity, when we hear from Schumacher himself, it’s through archival interviews conducted throughout his long career; after retiring for a second time in 2012, the racer suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in a 2013 skiing accident. The incident left Schumacher in a coma for months, and little has been made public about his condition since; the documentary acknowledges this toward the end, though offers little new insight on how he’s doing. That doesn’t detract from the film’s success; it’s a look back at the man’s life and career, rather than a present-day profile.