Art & Culture

Whether or not this film was inspired by the success of Senna (the documentary about the rivalry between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna) is uncertain. But Ron Howard and Universal must be hoping that their new film also reaches a wider audience than cinematic petrolheads.

James Hunt and Niki Lauda were another pair of Formula 1 rivals in the decade before Prost/Senna, at a time when the sport was a)more glamorous and b) a lot more dangerous. Drivers died in races at a rate that is inconceivable today. Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) was an archetypal upper middle class playboy, who loved to drink, smoke and screw as many women as possible, before jumping into a racing car and driving as fast as he could.

Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) on the other hand, was a meticulous and ascetic Austrian, who neither smoked nor drank and spent as much time on the set up of the car as his driving. He was consistent, reliable and obsessed with every aspect of his job. The two men, at least in this version of the story, were poles apart as people as well as rivals on the track.

The climax of this film is the 1976 World Championship in which Lauda looked to be winning by a large margin until the German Grand Prix which was conducted in appalling weather, and resulted in Lauda’s car crashing and exploding into flames. But there is a prolonged buildup before this, during which we see each of the men develop as drivers and people, and their relationships with women. This doesn’t achieve any great level of profundity – mainly reinforcing the stereotypes that have already been established. We gather that Hunt is incapable of sustaining a regular relationship with a woman because he likes them so much; whereas Lauda’s difficulty is that he doesn’t want to be distracted from his single mindedness; ‘happiness is the enemy.’

I enjoyed the film at a superficial level, well aware that a lot of simplifications both of events and people have been made in the interests of cinematic oomph. Hemsworth is remarkably similar to Hunt in looks, and does his best to master that effortless drawl which Hunt had (he is not entirely successful); while Bruhl does an excellent job of conveying a complex and not very appealing character.

The main exaggeration that the film perpetrates is the degree to which Hunt and Lauda were enemies. In real life, they were competitive and friendly rivals.

Not a major problem, but the bottom line is that this is a loud and simplistic film which will be enjoyable for many people, but especially for those who like to keep things simple and straightforward.

For a review of what really happened and a sense of the real James Hunt (a lot more intelligent than the film allows), watch this.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

    Content supplied by the excellent Front Row Films website check the site and join up for many more reviews and general all-round film goodness.