REVIEW: Audi & NFL Films find Truth in 24

With most sports documentaries, you know how the story's going to end before you even sit down. That knowledge doesn't make Truth in 24 any less fascinating, dramatic, or exciting. The story of Audi's 2008 effort at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Truth in 24 provides a very rare glimpse behind the scenes as Audi Motorsport prepares for, competes in, and ultimately wins the world's most famous endurance race. Audi went to NFL Films to make the movie, and director Keith Crossrow has applied that outfit's uniquely compelling storytelling ability to motor racing -- a sport he was largely unfamiliar with by his own admission. The results, fortunately, make for one Hell of a watch.

Narrated by action star Jason Statham, Truth opens with a brief primer on the 24 Hours of Le Mans using archival footage to communicate the race's rich history to newcomers, while giving motorsport aficionados a quick look back at many of the cars that have since become legends of the Circuit de la Sarthe. There's a great bit where the viewer is oriented to the sounds of the race, contrasting the R10 TDI's muted techno-symphony against the thunder of a GT1 Corvette and the wail of a GT2 Ferrari.

While Truth in 24's storyline encompasses the entire three-car Audi racing effort at Le Mans, its focus is primarily on Howden Haynes, the race engineer for car #2, and its drivers, Dindo Capello, Allan McNish, and "Mr. Le LeMans," eight-time champion Tom Kristensen. It's established early on that 2008 would be an uphill battle for Audi, despite its astonishing run of Le Mans victories. The nemesis to this unlikely underdog? Peugeot, whose 908 HDi prototypes are consistently faster than the R10s. Peugeot kicks off the season with a victory at Sebring in March, while the best Audi can manage is third place. The next big test comes at the LMS 1000km of Monza, a wild race at which Audi once again falls to Peugeot following a late miscommunication -- Mike Rockenfeller had the race won, but wasn't instructed to let Peugeot pass late in the race. As he battled the French team, the Peugeot and Audi made contact, Rockenfeller took damage, and Peugeot took the top podium spot again. The disappointment and disbelief in the Audi garage, as captured by the NFL Films cameras, is palpable.

With Peugeot's dominance established, director Keith Crossrow changes venues and transports us to Le Mans, and Truth in 24 really hits its stride. It's here that we're given an understanding of how the drivers simply live for this event. Short of making the trip to France, this is as close as many will ever get to comprehending the spectacle that surrounds the event. The mayhem as the cars are unloaded on scrutineering day; the packed streets for the driver parade; NFL Films captures it all, including a feisty Emanuele Pirro, who responds to female fan's autograph request by signing an unorthodox spot. In what's perhaps the film's most entertaining moment, Allan McNish serves as tour guide, commenting on a video shot from the nose of one of the R10s as it laps the circuit. McNish is watching it on a portable machine, yet he can't help but let his unbridled enthusiasm burst through as he explains the intricacies of every corner, calling out the shift and braking points that are as second nature to him as breathing is to the rest of us. As his play-by-play of a Le Mans lap comes to a conclusion, McNish is smiling onscreen, and the audience spontaneously burst into applause.

Ultimately, the film gets into the race itself, which seems almost like a done deal for Peugeot, who take an immediate lead with their faster cars. There are no foregone conclusions in endurance racing, however, and as the night progresses, we watch Howden Haynes make the decisions that slowly but surely put car #2 in a position to make a run for victory. As rain arrives at the circuit, we reach the film's turning point, where the Peugeots slow down and begin experiencing problems that leave the door ajar for Audi. In what comes across almost like scripted Hollywood fiction, it's Kristensen, the living legend, who takes the wheel for the final stint of the race. Tension between him and Haynes comes close to boiling over as the engineer makes a nerve-wracking call and orders TK to pit for one final tire change. Howes wants the intermediate rubber instead of slicks, based on a weather report he's just read. Kristensen is very against the idea, arguing back that the track is dry. Howes prevails, and the intermediate rubber is fitted. The next communique from Kristensen proves the engineer to be right. "These tires are perfect," he radios in, as rain again soaks half the circuit. You know where it goes from there. Kristensen drives the Audi R10 to victory -- his 8th Le Mans win and Audi's 5th in a row. Not bad for an underdog.

As for Truth in 24, it's an instant favorite as far as we're concerned. If you want to see it, be advised: ESPN will air it nationally on Friday, March 20 at 8PM Eastern. The following day, the green flag will again wave at Sebring, and the next chapter in this ongoing story will be underway.

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