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Rubino: Hey Opie, stay closer to the truth in your sports movies

  • The relationship between racers James Hunt, left, and Niki Lauda was a lot less antagonistic than how it was portrayed in “Rush.” (NICK UT / Associated Press, 1976)

The following is an open letter to Ron Howard.

Dear Opie:

This isn't a movie review of a sports story so much as it's a sports review of a movie story.

Let me explain.

I saw your new movie, “Rush,” about Formula One auto racing, specifically the competition for the 1976 world championship between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, won by Hunt, amazingly, by a single point. Pretty good film, as far as it goes, and it's sure to be a nationwide hit, especially in Mayberry, although the preference there likely would have been stock cars and good ol' boys instead of open-wheel machines and decadent foreigners.

“Rush” has a polished, authentic look and feel, the acting is first rate, the action frenetically edited, and it tells a compelling story.

So far, so good.

But in your movie, it's astonishing that Hunt, the pedal-to-the-metal British challenger, can climb into his 490-horsepower McLaren, let alone race it at 180 mph, what with his 24/7 sex-booze-and-drugs party-hearty mentality. In your movie, Lauda, the defending champion, is a myopic, humorless Spartan Aryan control freak who believes personal happiness is his enemy. OK, I get it. Strong opposite characters often drive drama (pun intended), and yours isn't the first movie to exaggerate real-life personalities for the sake of cinematic art.

But in your movie, Hunt and Lauda aren't human so much as cartoon prima donnas who hate each other, almost from the first scene, simply because their lifestyles are different. I guess you thought they had to hate each other. Otherwise, what would you have been left with? A travelogue about two guys racing really loud, really fast cars.

The authentic drama of the 1976 Formula One season was in Lauda's horrific accident in which he suffered permanent burn damage to his body and face, his heroic return to racing six weeks later, and Hunt's winning that year's F1 championship by one point, aided by Lauda quitting the final race for safety concerns during a torrential rainstorm.

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