When a director as singular in vision and equally direct in expressing it as Ron Howard collaborates with a screenwriter as succinct as Paul Morgan, the result is bound to be engaging in its narrative and insightful in the manner in which it deals with its subjects.
In combination, the pair has pulled off the near-miraculous feat of making possibly the world’s most boring sport totally absorbing.
So if you are of the opinion that Grand Prix racing is an enormous wank, try to bury your prejudice for the screening of this ripper movie.
England’s James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, yet another grad from the Australian soapies) and Austria’s Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) were Formula 1 world champions in the seventies. Though both from conservative backgrounds, their natures were opposite in the extreme.
Handsome, blond Hunt was all ‘sex and drugs and rock’n’roll’, whereas Lauda, smaller and less physically imposing, was the precise, no-nonsense perfectionist who found contentment in a loving relationship with wife Marlene (the beautiful Alexandra Maria Lara).
Their intense professional rivalry and personal enmity underpin what is a simple but timeless story.
It begins, unusually, with each man introducing himself through a voice-over on the morning of the fateful German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, 1976.
It is a peculiar technique and it gives to proceedings a sad and retrospective fatalism.
Lauda goes so far as to allude to what is about to happen later that day. As is Howard’s way, the approach is tabloid to start with, but subtler tensions and deeper understandings are eventually eked out.
Hair and costume design is strictly authentic (embarrassingly so for some of us – check out the Italian guys who give Niki and Marlene a lift), crowd scenes are expertly handled, archival footage is virtually seamless and, given the unavoidability of featuring screaming cars, the rev element is kept to within easily bearable portions.
Honour is never far below the surface in any good sports flick and it crosses the line here with belated poignancy.
~ John Campbell