An empathetic triumph

On one level, the film underlines rigour, determination, and sportsmanship, making it a compelling sports doc

author_img Ram Venkat Srikar Published :  16th September 2022 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  16th September 2022 12:00 AM

A still from the trailer (Photo | YouTube)

The Race of the Century, the latest documentary in Netflix’s Untold series, opens with John Bertrand, the former captain of Australia’s racing yacht team saying, “I have never met a world champion that’s not a normal person. You gotta be screwed up in some manner to be able to get out of bed to do extraordinary things.” The line perfectly encapsulates the essence of this truly historical story and the people behind it.


Since its inception in 1851, the New York Yacht Club has reigned supreme over America’s Cup, awarded to the best sailors across the world who partake in the competition. When Australia II, the sailing team led by Bertrand, aims for glory, the wind and the waves are certainly not in their favour. What does it take for the Australian team to beat the current, break the hegemony and win America’s Cup in 1983? Tons of will, team spirit, innovation, and hard work, presented neatly with interviews and real footage.


On one level, the film underlines rigour, determination, and sportsmanship, making it a compelling sports doc. On another, more profound level, it treats these sportsmen—both the challengers and the defenders—with a pinch of humanity. It celebrates the winners but doesn’t abandon the defeated. The empathy extended to the American captain Dennis Connor towards the end sets the film apart from other documentaries that have dealt with a similar subject matter. Yes, the structure encourages us to root for the underdogs, and naturally, the privilege they hold and the power they command antagonise Americans, but that doesn’t mean the intentions and actions of both sides get relegated to binaries. This documentary strikes a terrific balance on both the personal and professional fronts.


The story lends a tremendous amount of drama and celebration, and the documentary comprehends this depth fully. After a rather cold and formal opening, once the stage is set for a collision, we are in for a nail-biting watch. The tide is always not in our heroes’ favour and consequentially, the film takes you through ups and downs. This is a ride filled with crushing disappointments and soaring victories. The editing admirably keeps you on the edge of your seat, although we know right from the beginning how it all will culminate. This is the documentary’s biggest win—that it is able to capture your attention, lulling you into a suspension of disbelief, even though the end is predictable.


The Race of the Century is another worthy addition to the Untold series. It is also a reminder that there are many more such inspiring stories waiting to be told. When they are told with such finesse, we are compelled to listen.


Documentary: Untold - The Race of the Century

Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way

Streaming on: Netflix