October 1, 2013 -- The high stakes world of Formula One racing is the backdrop for this excellent drama about the rivalry between two very different men in pursuit of a championship. Based on a true story, the story takes place in 1976 when two very different race car drivers, Englishman James Hunt, and Austrian Niki Lauda compete for the Formula One championship (Formula One is the world's elite open wheel racing circuit). The story actually starts before that, but the bulk of the film is about the 1976 Formula One season.
Both of these drivers went against the wishes of their wealthy families to participate in this dangerous sport, and both became top drivers. Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth of “Thor”) is a handsome playboy who enjoys the rock star fame of being an elite driver. He is personable and loves to party. Lauda is a loner, dour, intense, precise, calculating, a master of the mechanics and economics of racing. He knows how to fine-tune and set up a race car better than any other driver, but he is socially inept.
The competition between these two is similar to the competition between politicians Kennedy and Nixon, or the businessmen Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. The competition in this film reminded me a little of the competition between the magicians in “The Prestige.”
The interesting thing about these two men is that neither of them is really a hero or a villain. Both of them are impressive in their own way, and both have their failings. Hunt is more relaxed, reckless, and less obsessed with racing. he is able to let it go and move on with his life. Lauda is obsessed with beating Hunt, but he changes after he marries Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara of “Control”). He acknowledges that he is less willing to take risks in racing, because now, after falling in love, he has something to lose. Everything, even love, is a calculation with Lauda. Hunt, on the other hand, being more self-possessed, takes more risks. He feels that if you can't have fun being a race car driver, why bother?
This film takes a close look at both of these men and their relationships, warts and all. Of course it is also about racing, and the racing scenes are well-staged. Racing is a very loud sport and the racing scenes in this film are very loud. I used ear plugs for this film, and the racing scenes still sounded loud to me. Some theaters may set the sound too loud on this film, so beware.
I have seen a lot of sports racing films, including classics, like “Grand Prix” and “LeMans,” but this is the best one about the sport of car racing, primarily because it isn't just about the racing and it has a real solid story as a backbone to bridge from one race to the next. In most films about car racing, the story seems to be neglected, an afterthought. The acting is top notch in this film and the characters are fascinating. This film rates a B+.
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