“More powerful than even the fear of death itself, is the will to win.”
Throughout most of the movie, I was so lost into the story that it was easy to forget I was watching actual actors, which hasn’t happened to me during a film in many years. Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth nail their roles seamlessly, but more on that later. Peter Morgan assists with impeccably written dialogue, but the director of the film, Ron Howard’s directional abilities tell quite the convincing story. To be fair, this is a movie, not a documentary…but it feels like a documentary as you watch.
In Ron’s interview about recreating Niki’s near fatal Nürburgring crash, he describes filming the haunting scene on the actual track and in the very spot where Niki Lauda crashed. What a fascinating yet terrifying challenge. Ron describes it as an, “extraordinary opportunity” to get it right.
As the safety spokesperson for the drivers, the real Niki Lauda called a meeting of his fellow racers in an attempt to have the race at Nürburgring stopped, but many of his fellow drivers didn’t agree. In the end, he lost by one vote and was left with little choice but to race. It would be the last Formula One race ever run on that track at Nürburgring.
Niki Lauda explained his will to survive in the hospital after his horrible crash:
“When I came to the hospital. You feel like you are very tired, and you would like to go and sleep,” says Lauda, “but you know it’s not just go and sleeping. It’s something else. And then you just fight with your brain. You hear noises and you hear voices, and you just try to listen to what they are saying and you try to keep your brain working to get the body ready to fight against illness. … I did that and that way I survived.”
In his first meeting with director Ron Howard, Daniel proves his ability to play the sometimes egotistical Niki Lauda.
“And then I felt confident, and I realised that Ron liked me, I had half an hour with him that turned into an hour – and I became a bit cocky. I hadn’t prepared my Austrian accent, but I thought “They’re Americans and English, they won’t be able to tell the difference!” So I began to talk in a fake Austrian accent, to show Ron the difference – and Peter Morgan all of a sudden replies, in polished Viennese, that this is a bullshit Austrian accent! “
Daniel Brühl delivers the difficult role of Niki Lauda with a sort of contradictory ease. He’s cold and calculating, but likable. I found myself cheering him on even before his accident. Daniel actually becomes Niki Lauda.
Daniel Brühl’s intelligence and understanding of F1 racing, had me rooting for him long before his crash depicted in the film. Niki believed in himself and won because he could prove his capabilities not just through the actual act of racing, but the statistics of the field and the mechanics behind the machine.
Chris Hemsworth is beautiful, yet somehow believable as James Hunt. Maybe it’s because he is depicted as a playboy with a conscious, but it’s more than that. His spirit. Chris offers a spirit into the role of James Hunt that would make a ghost jealous. It isn’t about the drama of the sport for James. It’s simply about the skill and thrill of the track and crossing the finish line first. James Hunt was a prankster. In Madrid, Spain on May 2, 1976, James Hunt took the win over Niki Lauda at the Spanish Grand Prix. James Hunt’s car was disqualified after it was found to be 1.8 centimeters too wide. Hunt’s points were given to Lauda. McLaren and Hunt appealed the decision, arguing that the difference had not affected the performance of the car, to which Lauda and Ferrari grossly disagreed. McLaren won the appeal and Hunt’s points were reinstated. As a joke, Hunt was later filmed polishing a sign on the back of his car that read, “Caution Wide Vehicle”.
Sure, James Hunt was a playboy. He was also a F1 driver who drove with his heart for what he believed to be the true nature of the very idea of what it was to be a Formula 1 driver. Statistics mattered not to him. He’d give his life for a win therefore making odds obsolete. His instincts were in the moment, on the track, in that instant. He drove to drive. With that, came victory.
Niki looked to the entire track, the actual mechanics of the race. He understood the machine. More than that, though…he was able to analyze the fear. He said before his near fatal Nürburgring crash, “I accept that every time I get into my car, there’s 20% chance I could die and I could live with it, but not one percent more! And today with the rain, the risk is more.” Niki knew the parts of the actual race car so well, he could see what no one else could and make an adjustment to a vehicle to shave off 2 seconds of lap time. Niki Lauda: “To be a champion, it takes more than just being quick. You have to really believe it.” In Nikki’s extensive knowledge of statistics, he held the advantage as a global thinker who had the concrete knowledge, and solid foundation of understanding that determined his courage to win.
Niki and James were flatmates early in their careers and not completely the rivals depicted. Theirs was a healthy rivalry. Each knew the risks involved and oddly enough, each respected the other for the decisions they made yet couldn’t quite understand. When James Hunt saw Niki Lauda at the 1976 Italian Grand Prix, James said, “I feel responsible for what happened.” Niki answered, “Trust me. Watching you win those races while I was fighting for my life, you were equally responsible for getting me back in the car.”
Underneath the rivalry is a mutual respect for each other. Speaking of the last time Nikki saw James, he said that James was still living each day like his last. Nikki said, “People always think of us as rivals. But he was among the very few I liked and even fewer that I respected. He remains the only person I envied.”
If you’d like, you may watch the trailer for the film, here. I suggest the 2:29 trailer on the right. It’s the most comprehensive and explains the best.
I don’t recommend films often, but Rush definitely has my stamp of approval. Whatever that’s worth. 🙂