In The Heart of the Sea 2015


Another expensive-to-realise, hard-to-relate-to premise is featured in Ron Howard’s seafaring adventure; who wants to hear the true story that inspired Moby Dick? But Howard is a craftsman, and even his weaker efforts have some fun elements. A framing story, featuring Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw in a stuck-on beard) interviewing Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) about his past, is complete gibberish, but has a lovely background of a New England town. Things perk up when Liam Hemsworth swashbuckles his way centre-stage as Owen Chase, whose ship is sunk by a giant white whale, and then tail off into a unsatisfying story about cannibalism. But where In The Heart of the Sea fails as drama, it gets points for originality; it’s as high, wide and handsome as the hero, and evokes the spirit if not the letter of Melville’s work.


Frost/Nixon 2008


Ron Howard brings a strong visual sensibility to this adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play, which details the off-camera chess-match that went on behind the scenes of David Frost’s interviews with disgraced US president Richard Nixon. Played with genuine gravity by Frank Langella, Nixon is portrayed as boorish and belligerent, seeking to rehabilitate his image and seemingly unaware of the weight of public disappointment that Frost seeks to unleash. With the recent death of David Frost, it’s now clear that these interviews are probably the biggest achievements of Frost’s life, and Michael Sheen does a good job of conveying both the smarminess but also the inner grit that kept Frost at the top of the broadcast pile for decades. Toby Jones has an amusing cameo as agent Swifty Lazar in this colourful slice of behind-the-scenes drama.

Grand Theft Auto 1974


Decades before his excellent car-racing drama Rush, Ron Howard was both director and star of this jolly escapist entertainment about car-theft. Paula Powers (Nancy Freeman) elopes with Sam (Howard) and they set off for Vegas to get married in a Rolls-Royce, with family and friends in hot pursuit. A Roger Corman production, films like Grand Theft Auto and the original Gone in 60 Seconds fused Robert Altman’s fragmented approach with crowd-pleasing, simple storylines, and slathered elaborate stunts over the results. A sense of nostalgia is helpful, but Grand Theft Auto’s impact on popular culture is still felt today.

Rush 2013


Somehow lost in the awards shuffle, Ron Howard fashioned an excellent sports picture from a Peter Morgan script. Morgan’s usual balancing out of two competing characters (Frost Nixon, The Other Boylen Girl, The Queen) is well suited to the sporting rivalry and one-upmanship between James Hunt and Nikki Lauda, two iconic figures brought vividly to life by Liam Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl. Hunt’s playboy lifestyle is captured with affection, losing out in love to an off-screen Richard Burton. Lauda broods, despite the affections of Olivia Wilde, and overcomes incredible odd to maintain his alpha male battle to the end. Few directors can marry character and plot as deftly with Howard, offering the same verisimilitude as with Apollo 13, Backdraft and A Beautiful Mind.