Written by: Robert Towne
Starring: Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Nicole Kidman, Cary Elwes
Winning a race in NASCAR requires so many moving parts to be in complete cohesion from the driver to the pit crew. Everything must work perfectly, which presents challenges when seeing the egos held by some of the characters in Days of Thunder. An entertaining sports film hoisted up by some tremendous actors.
Trying to find his way into a NASCAR unit, Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) gets set up to work alongside veteran crew chief Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall). While their relationship begins with plenty of friction, the two begin to learn the achievable success possible when combining the undeniable skill of Cole and the expertise and knowledge of Harry.
Reviewing this shortly after The Color of Money gave me a bit of whiplash seeing the similarities in the storytelling and Tom Cruise portraying the brash young stud in both. Even with it being an inferior work, Days of Thunder provides plenty to enjoy as it takes Cruise onto the motor speedway. However, the greatest aspect of it undoubtedly proves to be matching up Cruise to Robert Duvall and the way they bounce off of each other.
They represent the typical young pupil and older veteran dynamic we have seen plenty of times before and this film does nothing revolutionary with it but does present it proficiently. This pretty much summarizes this film for me overall, as it does nothing particularly great but it tells a strong sports story with its strong cast. It serves as a learning opportunity for Cole Trickle to hold back his arrogance for a bit for the good of his career and the people he works with. As someone new to NASCAR but not racing overall, he needs some adjustment with how he approaches each race. A major part of his development also occurs with the rivalries he forms.
As the story progresses we find the rivalry that brews with two drivers for different reasons. Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) challenges him as a driver and as a man while Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes) presents an internal threat to Cole as a member of his team. Each of these men present their different obstacles for Cole, but they help him learn more about himself and how he wants to present himself to the world. The development for Cole shows up in the selfishness of his position and how he needs to open up to others. Even with the communication drivers have with their teams, all of the danger and risk remains with the person steering the wheel going 200 miles per hour among a sea of other cars. This surely creates a level of self-sufficiency, which we see in the early stages of the film where Cole attempts to do everything on his own. This obviously does not work out well for him, which sees him struggle against the two aforementioned men.
The race sequences pump adrenaline to the story as one would like a NASCAR film to do where the stakes continue to rise in each race until we get to the biggest one of them all. I have to say, this film taught me a lot about NASCAR and the strategies utilized to actually win a race. My past ignorance led me to believe that they just drive in circles for hours mindlessly, but Days of Thunder pulls back the curtain quite a bit to provide enough context for what occurs in order for everything to make sense. A valiant effort, as it demonstrates the difficulty of what Cole and other drivers achieve when behind the wheel. I find it similar to baseball where everyone can swing a bat but only a few can hit a 90 mph fastball outside of the park. Similarly, most people learn to drive if they live anywhere outside of a metropole, but not many can maneuver vehicles in the way Coles, Rowdy, and Russ can.
Even with its enjoyable moments, Days of Thunder has its deficiencies including the lack of any real chemistry between Nicole Kidman and Cruise in the role. I had not mentioned it before but it made no sense seeing as the shallowness of the relationship does not add anything meaningful to the story, but it slightly raises the stakes whenever Cole possibly gets into a serious accident. The film’s structure proves to be basic, but it’s an easy film to enjoy because of the well-told story and a character in Cole who makes it easy to invest in emotionally.