Frances Winston feels this movie should appeal to most people, whether or not you’re interested in Formula One racing
Directed by: Ron Howard – Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Natalie Dormer, Alexandra Maria Lara, Christian McKay as Alexander Hesketh
If the thoughts of a sports biopic makes you groan in the bad kind of pain, hold that thought until after you check this movie out. It has been widely portrayed as the story of legendary 1970s Formula One racing legend James Hunt, and indeed they are using the easy on the eye Chris Hemsworth who plays him, to push the film.
However, this is an inaccuracy. Rather it tells the story of his rivalry with fellow driver Niki Lauda (Bruhl) and the Austrian driver’s comeback from a near fatal crash, during the 1976 racing season. In fact, it is more Lauda’s story than Hunt’s, so I’m surprised Bruhl isn’t getting highlighted more in the publicity. You may remember him only from Inglorious Basterds, but he has an excellent CV and is an incredibly fine actor (check him out in Finding Lenin – amazing!)
While Formula One is still considered sexy, nowadays it has become incredibly technical and safety conscious. Back in the 1970s it was a very different story though, and while safety measures were in place, no one batted an eyelid when party boy Hunt swigged champagne before racing, or smoked enough illegal substances to floor a horse. While Lauda was always a technical driver, Hunt was more a fly by the seat of your pants type, and his handsome looks coupled with his devil may care attitude made him hugely popular with the public and other drivers. Lauda on the other hand, was not that popular, as his brusque attitude to the technicalities of the sport was deemed by many to be unfriendliness and standoffishness.
What both men shared was an absolute passion for the sport, and Howard does a great job here of encompassing the excitement of this high octane sport, while still ensuring that the characters have depth. Both Bruhl and Hemsworth were good casting choices and this is very much their film, with the other actors playing mere supporting roles in their story (Dormer in particular is only in the movie for around five minutes).
Although the focus is on their rivalry, Howard manages to ensure that those with no interest in the sport don’t become bored by the racing scenes. He very much captures the tension and rivalry between these two men. When Lauda has his accident – even though you know it is coming since it is well documented – it is genuinely shocking, and the less savoury side of his recovery, such as vacuuming his lungs, isn’t sanitised for the audience. Yes, you will cringe in parts, but this is the reality of what happened to him!
This truly captures the era, and has an excitement that only comes when people have a real passion for the tale they’re telling. It is made all the more poignant by real footage of the pair at the end of the film, and although it ends pretty much at the end of that 1976 season, we get a brief overview of what happened next (Hunt became a game show and chat show celebrity – Lauda went on to win the championship again).
By the end of his life Hunt was a reformed character, who eschewed high living and partying, but it was this side of his personality back in the day which made him such an exciting driver. Lauda, for his part, is still involved in F1 as a pundit and seems to have loosened up a lot following his accident (which he still bears the scars from to this day). However, they were very much of their moment, and had they not been the men they were then this film wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling.
This should appeal to most people, even those who have no interest in sports of any kind, and it is a fabulous snapshot of a moment in time that can’t ever be recreated.
In Cinemas September 13th