Days of Thunder is basically Top Gun with race cars, and while it didn’t do nearly the same box office as the Naval aviation saga, it returned director Tony Scott to the chair of a big-budget studio action picture after his more artsy effort, Revenge, and showcased his clear eye for visceral intensity within his action sequences. Again collaborating with iconic producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, Days of Thunder is shamelessly corny and ridiculously entertaining in equal measure, a movie with some of the best race car scenes ever captured on film, truly demonstrating to the viewer just how dangerous stock-car racing can be. Cruise essentially replicated the character of Maverick but instead of being in a cockpit for most of the movie he’s in the driver’s seat of his car, taking a character that the audience is familiar with and shaping it with some new and interesting beats and flavors. Scott shot the hell out of every single racing sequence and all of it is 100% real (remember – CGI was still a few years away). And it truly feels it. There is an authenticity to the race sequences that feels vital, and the blunt-force impact of Ward Russell’s classically masculine widescreen cinematography cannot be ignored, as it conveys the grit, smoke, and fire of the track, as well as the richly textured, sun-dappled, and heavily atmospheric imagery that Scott would become so famous for. This is a gorgeous film in nearly every instance.
The film also marked the big American break out performance of Nicole Kidman, who would hook up with Cruise off-screen, resulting in one of the most celebrated Hollywood couples of all time; their chemistry in Days is palpable and their courting sequences are genuinely cute. The dynamite sound work on Days of Thunder is a sonic clinic on the process of layering effects, dialogue, and music, mixing the revs and roars of the engines with the screams of the crowd and the interaction of the race teams. One of the film’s signature moments has to be Cruise’s entrance to the race track; pulling up on a motorcycle, rocking a leather bomber jacket, and cutting through some classic Tony Scott fog-machine-produced-mist, Cruise was in pure bad-boy mode in Days of Thunder. And then there’s the opening credits, which are perfectly edited to Hans Zimmer’s pulsating musical score (his first solo feature job), with Scott and Russell’s camera catching quick glimpses of race track life, which really sets the stage. The macho supporting cast includes John C. Reilly, Robert Duvall, Michael Rooker, Cary Elwes, Fred Thompson, and J.C. Quinn, while legendary Chinatown scribe Robert Towne is credited as the screenwriter. Few movies have conveyed the same sense of speed and danger that Days of Thunder managed to achieve, and as a result, this is a great flick to watch with some friends while drinking some beers on a Saturday afternoon, with the surround sound cranked way up.