So, I went to the cinema last night with some friends. I’m trying not to make that sound sarcastic because I know at least one them will be reading this, and he knows where I live, and he’s a big bastard. But, believe it or not, I managed to rustle up some popcorn and the motivation to walk thirty paces to the cinema and went to see Rush, the new Ron Howard racing epic starring Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Nicki Lauda.
I find the general tale of Hunt and Luader pretty fascinating to begin with -one of those “you-couldn’t-make-it-up” real-life stories that seems like it only happened in the first place so someone could make a film out of it. And, in the hands of the sterling Ron Howard, it genuinley looked like it was going to be the perfect mix of Oscar-bait and actual entertainment.
And….it was. Sort of. A bit. I was discussing the film later with a friend and we both agreed that, although the film had been a very competent bit of cinema, it also wasn’t much more than that. Aside from the beautfiul cinematography and race sequences, everything remained decidedly average, decidedly first-draft-y. Chris Hemsworth made a fine James Hunt (whose name sounds almost incorruptibly like a rhyming slang), and there were lots of appropriatley gorgeous women wandering about in the pits, but the film suffered from it’s own story from the second act onwards.
Nicki Lauda was involved in a truly horrific crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix, where his car rolled into an embankment and burst into flames. Lauda was trapped in the burning car for over a minute until fellow drivers worked together to pull him out of the scorched wreckage of his ferrari, during which time his modified helmet had slipped off, leaving his face pretty much fully exposed to the flames. The crash left him in hospital for over a month, with many assuming he would never race again, if he lived at all. He did survive and did race again, but was the crash claimed his left ear, a large part of the skin on his face and most of his hair.
Several things struck me about the way this accident was handled in the film. For one, it was a brilliant bit of filmmaking. The crash (and Lauda’s recovery) were pretty harrowing to watch, even for those who wouldn’t call themselves petrolheads, and Daniel Bruhl did a great job with Lauda’s sheer force of will and almost dangerous ambition. But that crash was pretty much the climax of the film-and it came two-thirds of the way in. After we’d seen Lauda’s triumphant return to the field, etc, etc, and James Hunt claiming victory in the 1976 World Championships, it felt like Howard was just presenting us with an extended “happily-ever-after” sequence. Trapped by the boundaries of real life, he was left with trying to gum together some kind of closure through Bruhl’s forced narration and Hemsworth bouncing onto a private jet full of sexy ladies. And when your epilogue takes up that much of your film, you have to wonder whether the rest of it was worth watching in the first place.