Formula 1 dance-of-death thrills for petrolheads
Damon Smith takes a look at the week’s latest film releases.
Drama/Action/Romance. Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Jamie Sives, Natalie Dormer, Pierfrancesco Favino, Alexandra Maria Lara, David Calder, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Patrick Baladi, Christian McKay. Director: Ron Howard.
To truly excel in a chosen field, you need to be challenged, pushed to the limit of human endurance to find previously untapped reserves of strength and courage.
For this reason, sport is littered with bitter rivalries between incredible champions, whose desire to win – regardless of the consequences and the physical risks, inspires awe and devotion. Take, for example, the battle of athleticism and skill between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe which electrified tennis courts, replicated in the women's game by the showdowns between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
Some of the fiercest rivalry, though, has been contested on Formula 1 racetracks. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost famously clashed in and out of their supercharged machines, compelling the French driver to declare that "Senna wanted to destroy me".
During the 1970s, rubber burnt and tempers frayed between two very different drivers: charismatic ladies' man James Hunt and incredibly ambitious Austrian speed fiend Niki Lauda. Their daredevil duels reached a horrifying crescendo at the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring when Lauda's Ferrari burst into flames, trapping him in the inferno. An incredible six weeks later, Lauda emerged from hospital with extensive scarring, determined to prevent Hunt from claiming the chequered flag at Monza.
This incredible story of courage and resilience is dramatised in Rush, Ron Howard's superb biopic that charts the rivalry between Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) from their early days through to the glamour of the Formula 1 circus.
The two men have very different approaches to their craft. Hunt relishes the trappings of fame, proposing to his first wife, model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), on the spur of the moment then allowing excesses to poison their relationship and drive her into the arms of Richard Burton. Lauda is devoted to testing, working his mechanics into the ground to shave a few hundredths of a second off lap times at the expense of personal relationships.
So when he falls madly in love with Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara), he fears the repercussions.
"Happiness is the enemy, it weakens you. Suddenly you have something to lose," he declares.
With stirring performances from Hemsworth and Bruhl, Rush is a riveting evocation of an bygone era. An uplifting story of admiration and friendship purrs beneath the bonnet of Howard's direction offering plenty of high-speed thrills for petrol heads.
Screenwriter Morgan selects the choicest cuts of the facts for the big screen, including horrific scenes at the hospital where a badly burnt Lauda drifts in and out of consciousness but still musters enough strength to growl, "Tell the priest to get lost. I'm still alive!".
Howard's film pulsates with the same vitality, painting a vivid portrait of men who lived on the edge in an era when racing was genuinely a dance of death.
Action thriller with gung-ho heroism
Action/Thriller. Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Joey King, Richard Jenkins, Michael Murphy, Lance Reddick, Rachelle Lefevre. Director: Roland Emmerich.
Not content with decimating the White House in his 1996 sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day, director Roland Emmerich reduces the Washington landmark to rubble again in this preposterous action thriller.
White House Down is an all guns blazing tale of gung-ho heroism and flag-waving patriotism which unfolds during a terrorist attack on the US President's iconic seat of power.
The similarities to Olympus Has Fallen starring Gerard Butler are inescapable. On the surface, the two films follow the same narrative trajectory, pitting a single man against hordes of gun-toting adversaries on a suicide mission to rescue the stricken President from diabolical captors.
Both films cower in the shadow of nuclear Armageddon but White House Down boasts more creativity with its action sequences, including an overblown car chase around the grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the President armed with a rocket launcher.
John Cale (Channing Tatum) is an ex-soldier, who is assigned to protect Speaker of The House, Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), when he would much rather be part of the Secret Service detail protecting President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).
An interview for promotion conducted by Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) goes badly and John licks his wounds by joining his daughter Emily (Joey King) on a guided tour of the White House just as a heavily armed paramilitary group led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke) prepares to take control of the building.
A devastating blast beneath the rotunda of the US Capitol signals the start of the hostilities and Stenz and his men sweep through rooms and corridors, shooting guards until the perimeter and hostages are secure.
With the President's life in the balance, Vice President Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) takes off in Air Force One. On the ground, Carol and her team including General Caulfield (Lance Reddick) discuss a military solution. Meanwhile, John does what any father would to protect his daughter: grabs a gun and single-handedly takes on the baddies.
What White House Down lacks in subtlety, it compensates with knucklehead, adrenaline-pumping thrills and spills.