Days of Thunder (1990) dir. Tony Scott
Starring: Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Michael Rooker, Randy Quaid, Nicole Kidman
“Days of Thunder” has to be one of the silliest yet strangely lovable examples of blockbuster entertainment. It’s “Top Gun” reworked for Nascar and told with complete seriousness. Handsome production values, melodramatic plotting and some unintentional humour make it a fun guilty pleasure.
Tom Cruise’s introduction sets the tone for the film and it’s a lengthy one. Nascar race team owner Tim Daland (Randy Quaid) recruits a reluctant retired mechanic Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) to build him a new car to race on the circuit. Harry is like the Michaelangelo of mechanics and his work is a beautiful masterpiece. Nascar champion Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) tests it out on the race track, and it runs fine. But Harry won’t be convinced until he sees Tim’s new driver test it out. Cue Cruise’s introduction. Tommy enters the stadium riding a Harley Chopper with Hans Zimmer’s stinging guitar lick screaming in the background. He proceeds to approach and talk to the esteemed racers with supreme macho aloofness and confidence.
This is the tone of ridiculousness everyone contributes to the film. If you remember, it was a Simpson/Bruckheimer summer release, so naturally all the drama is exaggerated to near mythological heights.
And how about those driver names? Everyone gets their own razor sharp name - like porn stars Nascar names have their own branded identity: Tom Cruise is Cole Trickle, Cary Elwes is Russ Wheeler, Michael Rooker is Rowdy Burns and John C. Reilly is Buck Bretherton.
Towne injects the film with same amount of uber-macho male bravado as “Top Gun”. But it’s shoved down our throats with even more childish conflict. No conversation in “Days of Thunder” isn’t complete without two men wrestling with each other, shouting at each other, swinging bats at each other, or good old fashioned trash talking.
Few directors compliment this material better than Tony Scott. Like most of his pictures at the time, his frames are bathed in a blanket of golden magic hour sunlight. Scott has a knack for shooting big toys really well – whether it’s the fighter jets of “Top Gun”, the submarines of “Crimson Tide” or the beastly cars of Nascar, his machinery are given as much attention in his frames as the human characters. Arguably no other filmmaker has shot professional racing better than his work in this film. With seemingly innumerable camera angles at his disposable Scott is able to create a rich textured authenticity to the sport. Scott’s cockpit camera angles in particular heighten the intensity of his key racing sequences. Scott gets an intense but manageable shake to his camera in his close-ups, distracting us from the fact that the actors are either being towed by a camera car, or cruising around a track at the speed limit.
This is why “Days of Thunder” can be strangely enjoyable – the ultimate in muscular and macho escapism – so utterly preposterous yet beautifully excessive at the same time. Enjoy.
"Days of Thunder" is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment