Year Released: 2013
Directed by: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl , Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara
(R, 123 min.)
Genre: Drama, Action and Adventure
"The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel. It's a wonderful way to live. It's the only way to drive." James Hunt
Most racing films are as dull and predictable as the round and round again laps that seems to last forever. Not true with Ron Howard's new film about two real life Formula 1 drivers in the 1970s. His film sparkles with wit, wisdom, and wry humor, and it explodes off the screen with the same supercharged power as the cars and the men behind the wheels.
Part of its perfection is in the casting, with Chris Hemsworth (Thor) playing English glamour boy James Hunt with an outrageous abandon that fits him like a second skin. Daniel Brühl, playing his by-the-numbers Austrian rival Niki Lauder, has a gritty determination equally intense. It's the sort of chemistry that existed between the flamboyant Captain James Kirk and his coldly logical second in command, Mr. Spock. Opposites in almost every way, both men share an obsession with racing and had each been shunned by their wealthy, traditional families for making such an outlandish career choose.
James Hunt relishes his bigger than life playboy persona just as Niki Lauder glories in his lack of one. And it is this clash of personalities rather than their racing competition itself that fuels the film. Our first glimpse of Hunt, for example, is not behind the wheel, but bloodied up and staggering into a hospital emergency room. No, it's not a racing accident, he corrects the nurse, but something entirely different.
James Hunt: I had a friendly disagreement with another driver about his wife.
Nurse Gemma: [checks eyes] Why, what did you do?
Hunt: Only what she asked me to do.
Gemma: Which was?
Hunt: I'll be happy to show you if you'd like.
Quick cut to the darkened surgery where he does just that. Which brings up the fact that however much the kiddies loved Cars, you will have to insist they stay home from this sometimes graphic adventure.
Even the stoic Niki is not immune to feminine wiles, as demonstrated in a delightful scene when he meets the beauty destined to become his wife. Shunned from a high society party because his casual bluntness has offended the teammate who invited him, Niki thumbs a ride back home with Mariene (Alexandra Maria Lara). Instead of being captivated by his driver's beauty, Niki turns his attention to sounds of her motor, correctly diagnosing its fatal flaws just before it craps out on them. Mariene smiles coyly as she flags down some local drivers, impressed that her flirtatious behavior has landed them a new ride. But it is "Niki, Niki Lauda," who has stopped the race-crazy Italians, and Mariene suddenly realizes that she is sitting behind a minor celebrity, albeit one unknown in the high circles she inhabits. But he is driving so slowly. Can this mild looking even homely rat-featured man be a race car driver?
Niki Lauda: There's no need to drive fast. We're not in a hurry, we're not being paid. There is no reward for the risk. So why would I drive fast?
Marlene Knaus: Because I'm asking you to.
Lauda: [in German] Do you always get what you want?
Knaus: [in German] Usually.
[suddenly pushed back against her seat as Niki steps on the gas]
The scene that follows is reminiscent of that classic boat trip down the falls in African Queen where Katherine Hepburn shows the wild side under her stoic veneer. With his feet working the pedals and his hands on the gears, Nike turns the dilapidated Italian sedan into a tiger, and we and Mariene both see beneath his stoic veneer as well. No, he doesn't have long hair or a shirt open to his navel like some of the other drivers, but he is the goods nonetheless. And Mariene falls for the inner man not the shell.
In addition to the excellent ensemble performances Ron Howard coaxes from his cast, we have the perfect melding of form and function. The film itself, like the cars, is poetry in motion. The fast cuts match the fast curves; the film goes in and out of focus as the engines rev up. The '76 racing season flies by with just snippets of the actual races being shown. Howard wisely chooses to fast track the race footage itself, limiting it to the crucial curves and crashes that ignite the screen, where death and near death define existence.
Just as Tom Hanks has recently redeemed himself from 2011's poorly received Larry Crowne with his tremendous performance in this fall's Captain Phillips, so Ron Howard here has risen Phoenix like from the ashes of 2006's The De Vinci Code and 2009's Angels and Demons – neither of which did Tom Hanks any favors either.
Do yourself a favor and squeeze this limited release into your fall schedule, even if you have to postpone some of the high octane favorites about to debut soon. Like that ride in the dilapidated Italian sedan, it will surprise and delight.
Early in his racing career, English race driver James Hunt shunned official commercial sponsors for an English lord. The pre-race parties, aside from the greasy pit crew, looked more like a day at the Ascot races with fancy hors d'oeuvres served up on silver trays. Just the thing to whet the appetite for the champagne that would follow a victory, although Hunt sprayed most of the champagne at the crew before drinking it straight from the bottle himself.
These Lobster Stuffed Mushrooms are as elegant as any offering of Hunt's English lord, and they will highlight your special holiday party, too. But don't get carried away in the spirit of the season and start spraying the champagne at your guests. Bon Appetite!
Lobster Stuffed Mushrooms
1 1/2 lbs cooked lobster, cut up
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
12 tablespoons finely chopped celery
9 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese
24 ounces fresh whole mushrooms
9 tablespoons finely chopped onions
3 to taste sharp cheddar cheese
1. Clean and dry mushrooms, remove stems.
2. Mix all ingredients together and stuff mushrooms.
3. Place small pieces of sharp cheddar cheese on top of each mushroom.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, uncovered.