Keanu Reeves steals the show in “Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story” review.
How can you make your sports documentary stand out among the many shows highlighting impressive athletic achievements every week? Disney’s latest four-part series follows a motor racing team’s journey from obscurity to competing for the sport’s top prize, with a surprising choice in host: Keanu Reeves! This show offers a special element to boost its buzz and popularity. Have you watched Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story yet? The one with Keanu Reeves?
When each episode begins, Reeves appears dramatically from the darkness, but his interviewing skills with athletes are average. He is a distracting, but not harmful, presence as the unbelievable story of the title is recounted. In the 2009 Formula One racing season, the underestimated Honda team was supposed to be led by cunning pit boss Ross Brawn and polished CEO Nick Fry. However, after the worldwide financial crash, Honda abandoned their F1 operations, putting their participation in jeopardy. Brawn and Fry were able to buy out the team for only £1 and emerge as a new team, Brawn GP.
Brawn GP had a significantly smaller budget in comparison to its top competitors. However, during the qualifying round for the first race of the 2009 season, McLaren, Ferrari, and other teams quickly realized that something was amiss. This was due to a clever aerodynamic innovation known as the “double diffuser,” which gave the Brawn car a significant advantage on the track. Brawn GP’s driver, Jenson Button, not only won the race but went on to win five out of the next six races. Chaos erupted as a team that was once considered an underdog became the favorite for the championship title, causing other teams to try and take them down. They attempted to do so by accusing the double diffuser of violating the sport’s regulations. Meanwhile, Brawn GP struggled to stay afloat, constantly fighting for sponsorship funds that were nowhere near the level of their competitors.
As contracts are finalized, hearings are organized and betrayals occur, the limitations of F1 as a sport pose challenges for the documentary. Rarely does the outcome of a race depend solely on the skill of the driver: the competitive aspect is overshadowed by the business, politics and intricate technicalities of car design. The decision to have Reeves as a presenter is likely an attempt to attract a non-F1 audience, but it is only those who are already fans of the sport who will be interested in the specific details of how Brawn GP emerged as the lead contender – and the significant amount of money involved in F1 makes it difficult to see Brawn’s success as a true underdog victory, as the series tries to portray it. While they did defy the odds, in the world of F1 that simply means they had slightly less millions of pounds compared to their competitors.
Reeves is present in the story to add a human element. He has many endearing mannerisms that may be considered unprofessional by other interviewers, but are not seen as offensive. If a interviewee makes a slightly controversial statement, Reeves covers his mouth with his hand, resembling a young child who has just heard a naughty word. However, he also does not shy away from using profanity in front of highly respected individuals in the sports world. At one point, Reeves addresses Nick Fry and says, “And so you walk in that room with Ross, and they’re like, what the fuck?”
The actor’s inexperience as an interrogator is evident, but he is able to get his interviewees to reveal more. He frequently poses emotional questions, such as how they felt about their actions, rather than just asking what they did. This, coupled with the overwhelming experience of meeting Keanu Reeves, may explain why many of the motor-racing elite become emotional and struggle to maintain composure while reliving their most intense moments.
It takes a few episodes to adjust to the strong presence of Keanu Reeves in the show. Luckily, by that point, a compelling sports story unfolds that can stand on its own. In the latter half of the season, the charismatic Button, who is leading the championship but no longer has the best car due to every vehicle now having a double diffuser, makes mistakes due to his aggressive driving style. Meanwhile, his teammate, the determined Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, starts to catch up to him. The climax of the season is one of those F1 moments where victory depends on psychology rather than technology: a flustered Button must dig deep and find something extra within himself as he prepares for the second-to-last race in Brazil, which is Barrichello’s home turf.
The program cleverly decides to include Button’s backstory at this particular moment. It reveals how Button has spent his entire life trying to earn the approval of his late father, John, who passed away in 2014. As he recalls the day in Brazil that held so much significance, Button becomes emotional and shares his story with Keanu Reeves.
The inspiring F1 tale, Brawn: The Impossible Story, can now be found on Disney+.