When asked about the founding of Formula E, a motorsport circuit that uses only electric cars, its current leader, a former Spanish politician named Alejandro Agag, lights a stogie and tells the unvarnished truth. Advertisers were starting to cool to Formula One for environmental reasons, and Agag admits that business incentivized the development of Formula E more than concern for the air that he’s filling with cigar smoke. The confession reflects the ethos of “And We Go Green,” a documentary about the series’ fourth year that presents itself as a planet-conscious endorsement of clean-energy technology, but is mostly about the brash personalities competing for the championship. It’s the type of engaging-but-shallow sports doc that pops up frequently on streaming services, which seem the finish lines it will ultimately cross.
The phrase “And we go green!” is the “And we’re off!” of a Formula E race, though the construction and maintenance of these machines, not to mention the apparatus of street-racing tracks, is green relative only to its fossil-fuel-guzzling cousins in the motorsports world. The cars resemble Indy racers in look and speed, but the first thing that stands out about them is the sleek, quiet zip of a race, which contrasts sharply with the earsplitting vroom-vroom of Formula One combustion engines. There are other, less apparent differences, too, like the fact that Formula E cars are harder for drivers to control or that they can’t keep enough of a charge to finish an entire race. (The drivers have to jump into a second car at the halfway point, though the series has since developed longer-lasting batteries.) The trick for drivers to perform effectively is to manage the power they have closely or risk stalling out on the track.
Many of the athletes in Formula E are castaways or never-wases in Formula One, but the leagues mirror each other in structure. There are 10 teams, with two drivers apiece, and points are accumulated through a series of races set in cities around the world, starting with two in Hong Kong, ending with two in New York, and hitting spots in Rome, Paris, Marrakech and other locales between.
Directors Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville follow a handful of the biggest contenders: Jean-Éric Vergne, a temperamental Frenchman who’s nonetheless steady on the track; Sam Bird, a more humble British underdog who comes to the sport from a modest upbringing; and Nelson Piquet Jr., a Brazilian who’s trying to redeem himself after a notorious incident in Formula One.
Stevens and Venville don’t offer enough time with these men to establish anything more complex about them than rooting interest, and the racing footage itself is chaotic, patched together by a generic sports-commentary track. The film winds up working at cross-purposes, alternating between an enthusiastic advertorial for green technology and a highlight reel of the 2017-18 season. This cake-and-eat-it-too approach thins out both aspects of the film, despite a few fascinating storylines that bubble up.
Leonardo DiCaprio, who co-produced the doc through his Appian Way shingle, makes a cameo during a section on Aquafuel, the combination of sea algae and runoff cooking oil that goes into the batteries, and it buttresses his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most environmentally conscious stars. One of the hopeful aspects of the film is how the cutting-edge technology necessitated by Formula E will filter down into ordinary cars. If Formula E exists because people are wary of fossil fuel emissions, it stands to reason that those incentives will push major automakers in the same direction. “And We Go Green” may not be a particularly accomplished documentary, but in this respect, it perhaps sees the future clearly.