Thursday, October 10, 2013


In case you haven't heard, Ron Howard is back with a new film - a biopic of Formula One competitors Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). It follows their exciting rivalry throughout the 1976 racing season, with a disastrous incident in the mix to provide some much needed dramatic weight. It's a film that is distinctly unbalanced in tone and quality but to its credit, it finishes strong.
The first half is certainly weaker, presenting a slight film that negates the main reason for making the film at all. Opening with a voiceover, Lauda explains the risks and dangers associated with the sport. It's particularly ominous, but seems to be quickly forgotten. There's a jovial tone focusing on the glamour of the lifestyle that establishes the characters but adds nothing else. It has a glossy sheen and puts too much emphasis on the petty name-calling and trash-talk. Even though there are brief moments alluding to the fatalities that occur each season, these are swept aside all too quickly. If this was a dangerous sport, then you wouldn't know it from this portion of the film. That is, until Lauda gets into freak accident and gets trapped in his flaming car.
Indeed, the second half is where things really kick into high gear. After surviving the incident, Lauda is determined to overcome the setback and recover in time to still emerge as world champion. Even with obvious damage to his face, he remains as competitive and confident as ever. Brühl plays it well, selling you on the determination of the character. I most admit however, to being more impressed by Chris Hemsworth. As the rakish Hunt, he's perfectly cast. Hunt is all about bad boy sex appeal, which Hemsworth has in spades. Lauda on the other hand, is the buttoned-up, wholesome polar oppposite. He's focused and disciplined, unlike his plilandering nemesis. In other words, he's quite boring from a dramatic point of view. Perhaps it's unfair to compare the roles, but Brühl's predicament should have been approached with a bit more than one-note steeliness.
Performances aside, this section of the film is great for the excitement of the racing scenes. There's a tension and excitement that takes hold, due to the dynamic editing, cinematography and "ticking clock" screenwriting. These final scenes are much better at capturing the serious competitiveness of being a sportsman. The lingering memories of Lauda's crash also add a humanity to the story and characters that was missing at the start. It all comes together for an awesome, heart pounding climax.
Despite the lackluster opening, Howard soon gets on track to deliver the visceral thrills that the story deserves. It may not reinvent the wheel, but it's worth the trip.

From an Oscar standpoint, I expect this to be more of a contender in some of the "technical" races. Specifically, I expect those thrilling racing scenes to reap some nods for Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. Perhaps the VFX could be in the mix too, but I don't think it raises the bar much higher than the somewhat similar "The Fast and the Furious" franchise. If those films couldn't get any awards attention, then I don't see it happening for this film. Finally, Ron Howard's pedigree should also keep this in contention for Best Picture, but I get the feeling it will ultimately appear too young and hip for Academy voters.


  1. Great review Shane! I agree about technical categories, it can easily get in. Additionally, Hans Zimmer can get best score nomination for Rush, soundtracks released sound very good.

    I have not seen it yet, but I guess Daniel Bruhl is quite strong contender in supp. actor race, don't you think so?

    1. Thanks, Nika. I wonder if Hans Zimmer will get two nods this year, I feel like he's more likely to get in for 12 Years A Slave. That's why I didn't include Best Original Score.

      I'm really surprised by the Daniel Bruhl buzz, but everyone else is saying it so maybe I'm wrong. It just feels like a performance that the voters won't remember.