In theaters Friday, Sept. 20.
There’s a distinct possibility that you don’t know or care a lick about Formula 1 racing. After this sexy thrill ride, you will.
The record needle is dropped in the 1970s, when two race-car drivers dominated. All rollicking, champagne-swilling Brit playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) has to do is simply look at a blonde flight attendant and a moment later, they’re enrolled in the mile high club; Pragmatic Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl, best known for Inglourious Basterds) is a “rat-faced” (his words) analyst who devotes himself to racing against his father’s wishes. These two are fierce rivals in the classic sense, constantly needling and pushing each other to the limits of their dangerous sport. Even after one racer spectacularly crashes, he wills himself back to health for a singular reason: To get behind the wheel and best his competitor.
Early on in the film, Lauda notes that Formula One has a special allure because the drivers hover perilously “close to death.” Director Ron Howard backs up the bold statement with a spate of race sequences that might seem adrenaline-packed to some and tediously boilerplate to others. (This depends how many times you’ve seen 1990’s Days of Thunder). Still, let’s all agree that the climactic, epic competition in the heavy rain is a, well, rush.
But even with all that action on the course, this movie truly excels because of its anguishing, inspiring relationship between Hunt and Lauda. Between his Greek-god looks and Thor-like swagger, Hemsworth is perfectly cast and brings a winking charm to the role. The sturdy Bruhl, meanwhile, shows how an athlete must constantly do battle between his heart and his head. (Olivia Wilde also appears as Hunt’s wife, but the less said about her, the better. Shouldn’t she be above the stock Hot Love Interest role by now?). The guys are so captivating, it’s not a matter of which one to root for: Both are champions.