CRASH AND BURN (Ireland/15A/86mins)
Directed by Seán Ó Cualáin.
THE PLOT: “If you don’t make it, no-one gives a s**t”, so says Drogheda man Tommy Byrne who, for a fleeting moment in the 1980s, was the fastest and greatest racing driver in the world, and even made legend Ayrton Senna nervous. The reason why few remember Byrne’s name, however, is down to the fact that even though he went from nothing to driving Formula 1 in just under 4 years, he never manages to break through to the big time.
THE VERDICT: Tommy Byrne, the subject of ‘Crash and Burn’ is an interesting man; blessed with a natural talent for racing driving, his star rose quickly, but his volatile personality, humble background and perceived arrogance meant that none of he big sponsors could stand to work with him for long. It is obvious, as Byrne is interviewed about his truncated career, that this is a man who always had a chip on his shoulder, and this has turned to bitterness as he has got older, a bitterness that Byrne has never truly been able to let go of.
Through interviews with Byrne, Mark Hughes from Motor Sport Magazine, former drivers Calvin Fish and John Watson, Eddie Jordan and childhood friend Maurice Roddy, ‘Crash and Burn’ tells the story of a kid who came from nothing and never managed to play the game and fit into the world he wanted so desperately to be a part of. The story that unfolds is a frustrating one, to be honest, as it is blindingly obvious, when the facts are presented, that Byrne was sabotaged by his inner saboteur, and although it is easy to root for this likeable chancer, he was his own worst enemy.
Director Seán O’Cualáin pieces together a tale of rags to almost riches and back to rags again through archive footage and new interviews, these work well enough, although it seems that Byrne is never truly pushed to reveal what he thought of his own behaviour, and what he could have done differently. As well as this, there are sporadic moments of animation that feel jarring and out of place in the odd moments that they appear. That said, the film is well paced and interesting, although it never truly digs as deep as it could.
In all, ‘Crash and Burn’ is an interesting if superficial look at the story of a man who was sabotaged by himself. Byrne is a charismatic if frustrating subject, but this story has lessons for sports fans and lay people alike. There are problems with ‘Crash and Burn’, but there is an interesting tale at the heart of the film.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

CRASH & BURN – Trailer from Autlook Filmsales on Vimeo.

  • filmbuff2011

    For the record, this reviewer has little interest in Formula 1 car racing. However, there’s something about the personalities involved with this fiercely competitive sport that says a lot about the nature of the sport itself. In recent years, we’ve had films like Rush and documentaries like Senna. Now there’s the Irish perspective with documentary Crash And Burn.

    It relates the story of Tommy Byrne, a Dundalk man who has petrol for blood and breathes fumes. Suitably enough, he was born in the back of a car on the way to the hospital. Trouble followed him wherever he went, but he found an outlet for that misspent youth in car racing. Starting out with the thrill of stock cars in rural Ireland in the 1980s, he progressed to F1 circuits on the international stage. This brought him into competition with the likes of famed driver Ayrton Senna, to the point where he even beat Senna and become a champion. The two drivers were poles apart though, even leading to an altercation at one point. Off the track, Byrne was more interested in hard drinking, partying and women. This was his downfall though, as it didn’t fit with the shiny, responsible corporate image of sponsor McLaren. In later years, he found himself driving on the lesser American circuits and hit a lowpoint in Mexico…

    Director Sean O’Cualain follows up his intriguing Men At Lunch with another story of men living on the very edge of death. It’s an interesting story that’s best told by the man himself. Now 58 and a driving coach for a new generation of F1 drivers in Florida, Byrne has had to face up to his years of being an outsider in an elitist sport. Whereas drivers like Senna came from a privileged background, Byrne was from a poor family in Dundalk – the scrappy wild card thrown into the mix, if you will. Byrne is full of regrets at throwing away his opportunities, but that’s the nature of the beast. It attracts extreme sportsmen like Byrne, with fame, fortune, drugs and women as side benefits. But as friends and F1 enthusiasts relate, Byrne was responsible for his own downfall.

    While the film is certainly entertaining and full of insights into the world of F1 racing during the 1980s and 1990s, it never really gets to the heart of Byrne. It’s a little shallow in that sense, as if Byrne was holding something back about what really happened. There’s no redemption story here to root for. It’s a story of acceptance of past successes balanced out with failures, rather than optimism. There’s also the sense that Byrne didn’t particularly care for his successes on the track, as we discover him rooting around for his trophies like trinkets. But yet, there’s something undeniably magnetic about the man himself. His story proves to be quite a tale and a non-sugarcoated glimpse into the sport’s excesses. Not just for petrolheads, Crash And Burn is mostly worthwhile. ***