Review: Sports action
122 minutes/Opening on Sep 26, 2013/
The story: The rivalry between British race-car driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) begins in the early 1970s, when both are rookies. The handsome Hunt is a swaggering, sybaritic sex god, while Lauda is brusque and methodical. As they climb the league tables, the intensity of their rivalry grows. In 1976, both men are neck to neck for the championship.
On the German leg of the tour, Lauda urges other drivers to boycott the race as the rain has left the track unsafe. Hunt scoffs at the Austrian's caution and insists that the race continue.
A movie about Formula One drivers opening now? Surely, this is a blatant cashing-in on the same race just held here. But believe it or not, its release during this period is a coincidence because several countries, including the United States, are releasing it now as well.
So it would be unfair to dismiss this exciting, brilliantly photographed work as tie-in merchandising, especially not when the names attached to it include screenwriter Peter Morgan (nominated for Oscars for Frost/Nixon, 2008, and The Queen, 2006) and director Ron Howard (also nominated for an Oscar for Frost/Nixon and winning one for A Beautiful Mind, 2002).
Morgan's biggest hurdle in telling the story is that while both men were adored by fans, neither were particularly wonderful human beings.
Hunt was a rock star and had an ego to match. Lauda in his prime fit the Germanic stereotype of a cold fish and was abrasively blunt.
There is little sugarcoating to be seen here. Hunt is shown to be a terrible husband to wife Suzy (Olivia Wilde), while Lauda appears to have little time for anything that does not contribute to his personal victories on the track.
The screenwriter handles the likeability issue largely by trusting in director Howard and the lead actors Hemsworth and Bruhl to transmit the humanity of the characters in small moments of vulnerability.