Exhilarating racing action punctuates this true story, which sharply traces the rivalry between two Formula One champs. It's superbly well-shot and edited, with engaging performances from the entire cast. And with only one moment of calculated sentimentality, it's director Ron Howard's most honest movie in years.
The story begins in the early 1970s, when two rising-star F1 drivers clash over their very different styles. Britain's James Hunt (Hemsworth) is a swaggering womaniser, revelling in the rock-star lifestyle. By contrast, Austria's Niki Lauda (Bruhl) is a fiercely detailed technician who loves pushing barriers. They clearly see things they like in each other, so their different approaches on the track develop into a competitive relationship that spurs them to the front of the pack. Over the years, both meet their wives (Wilde and Lara, respectively) and move from team to team as they rise to the top of their sport. And their rivalry comes to a head at the 1976 German Grand Prix when world champion Lauda is involved in a horrific, fiery accident.
Morgan's script is essentially two biopics cleverly woven together to let us see the push and pull between these two iconic figures. Unexpectedly, Bruhl's Lauda emerges as the stronger character, with his grounded approach and sardonic wit allowing Bruhl to play effectively with submerged emotions. By contrast, Hemsworth's Hunt is little more than a gifted good-time boy who isn't worried about his lack of substance. It's a likeable, loose performance (we barely notice the wobbly British accent). Opposite them Lara and Wilde provide solid, subtle support, as do the fine actors who fill out the pit crews.
It's great to see Howard let a story speak for itself rather than over-explaining everything as he usually does. There's one tidy wrap-up scene, but it's nicely played, complete with an open-handed message about how each of us defines success in a different way. And the most unexpected thing is that Howard has created a movie that feels more like a gritty European film than a Hollywood production. Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography is particularly eye-catching in this sense, re-creating that 1970s graininess while capturing a strong whoosh of adrenaline in the race track sequences. And in the end, it's the characters' resonant emotional lives that fire our imagination.
Run time: 123 mins
In Theaters: Friday 27th September 2013
Box Office USA: $26.9M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Double Negative, Exclusive Media Group, Cross Creek Pictures, Revolution Films, Working Title Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 186 Rotten: 23
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriter: Peter Morgan
Starring: Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda, Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, Olivia Wilde as Suzy Miller, Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene Lauda, Natalie Dormer as Gemma, Christian McKay as Lord Hesketh, Tom Wlaschiha as Harald Ertl, Pierfrancesco Favino as Clay Regazzoni, David Calder as Louis Stanley, Stephen Mangan as Alastair Caldwell, Alistair Petrie as Stirling Moss, Julian Rhind-Tutt as Anthony 'Bubbles' Horsley, Colin Stinton as Teddy Mayer, Jamie de Courcey as Harvey 'Doc' Postlethwaite, Ilario Calvo as Luca Di Montezemolo, Patrick Baladi as John Hogan, Vincent Riotta as Lauda's Mechanic, Martin Savage as McLaren Mechanic, Jamie Sives as BRM Mechanic, James Norton as Guy Edwards
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