Director Ron Howard has brought us a wildly engaging film centering on two characters largely lost to sports history. Focusing on the intense battle between Englishman James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda for the Formula One Championship in 1976, Mr. Howard has recreated one of the great spirited duels that has taken place in any sport.
On top of that, we are graced by superlative performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, who play Hunt and Lauda, respectively. Dying some years later at the age of 46, Hemsworth’s Hunt wants to be a champion both on the track and in bed. Having literally no fear of death on the racetrack, he lived a private life filled with drugs, booze and beautiful women.
Lauda was the direct opposite, which fueled their personal rivalry. He was a dedicated driver from Central Europe who could have cared less about popularity. Lacking any of the dashing charm or charisma of Hunt, he lived and breathed racing on and off the track.
Competitors at the top of their game, these two individuals profoundly disliked each other. Hemsworth’s Hunt was an earthly version of his role as Thor in various films, here substituting a McLaren for Thor’s mighty hammer. He constantly taunted Lauda, relishing his pretty boy image.
But Hunt’s weakness was his lack of discipline off the racetrack, something that further separated the two men. His quick marriage to the beautiful model Suzy Miller, played with an edgy sparkle by Olivia Wilde, disintegrated given his infidelities.
On the other hand, Lauda was dedicated to his wife Marlene, played by the elegant Alexandra Maria Lara. He feared death on the track only as it related to her agony, and he became far more admirable in the process than Hunt.
What lies at the center of this compelling film was the tragic accident suffered by Lauda in a rain soaked race in Germany. Sitting in his wrecked vehicle for over 60 seconds while everything was consumed in flame, he was hospitalized in intensive care for 30 days. Fighting back from near death, Lauda suffered incredible facial burns and the loss of his right ear.
Incredibly, given the fact that Hunt was closing in on the championship, he came back to racing 45 days after the accident, suffering partial vision problems that added to his scars. The championship came down to the last race of the year, one that was also engulfed by a massive storm. Though history long ago vividly explained what happened, you get caught up in the intrigue as Lauda had to decide whether to seek the championship and in the process risk saying goodbye to his wife.
Simply stated, you could have absolutely no interest in Formula One racing and still love this film. Hunt and Lauda inspired each other, and you are likely to catch some of that feeling. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this good about a Ron Howard film. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure.
There is something so fundamentally hideous about the Mexican drug cartel that paralyzes any attempt to bring it to the big screen. Director Oliver Stone stumbled throughout in last year’s “Savages,” and the great Ridley Scott follows in his footsteps with “The Counselor.”
Quite frankly, its only strength comes from the screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, awash in developments that leaves you asking more than once, “What in the hell is going on?” Most viewers will soon realize that you are on a roller coaster ride into the depths of human depravity.
The plot focuses on a drug deal that goes bad in every possible way. Violence descends on everyone in a fashion seldom seen on the screen, and no one dies an easy death. It’s like swimming in a sea of sharks, knowing that one will eventually eat you.
The allure of the film comes from its talented cast, led by Michael Fassbender. Playing an attorney known only as the counselor, he succumbs to greed and gets involved in financing a load of cocaine coming in from Mexico. Engaged to the beautiful Penelope Cruz, their relationship is seen as based solely on sex with no holds barred and no part of the body going untouched.
Mr. Fassbender’s counselor arranges his drug deal through Javier Bardem’s Reiner, a master crook with great hair. Like everyone else in the film, Reiner loves to drink, and seldom wastes the opportunity. It is clear that he is fully aware that his luck will eventually run out, a feeling accentuated by a delirious performance from Cameron Diaz as his girlfriend.
Ironically, Ms. Diaz is the center of the entire film, playing a wildly tattooed Barbados escapee with bright silver fingernails. She is as conniving as she is nasty, and the scene where she actually proceeds to make love to the windshield of Reiner’s car will not be soon forgotten. Reiner stared in shock from behind the steering wheel, and you’ll feel like you are peeking from the back seat.
Finally, Brad Pitt appears as a confidante of the counselor, a man who knows when it is time to cut and run. Without giving it away, he meets a fate while fleeing to London that is nearly as visually shocking as anything you will see in a modern film.
Director Ridley Scott has given us some extraordinary films over the years, and it is always worth remembering “Blade Runner” (1982); “Thelma & Louise” (1991); “Gladiator” (2000) and the underrated “Prometheus” (2012). Here, however, his artistic reach exceeds his grasp, and you are left with a film that glories in the demise of its characters.
While I won’t tell you the one person who lives at the end, it is fair to say that he escapes death because his protagonists simply want him to live with the crushing memory of the drastic consequences brought to those he loves. This film is the devil in human form, so you are warned.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.