Crash and Burn




An investigation of both success and failure in the life of Tommy Byrne.


Crash & Burn


When Asif Kapadia made Senna in 2010 he created an outstanding film which, partly due to Kapadia's directorial skills and partly due to the fact that Ayrton Senna was such a fascinating person, had qualities that made it easy to recommend it to viewers with little interest in motor racing as such. In contrast Seán Ó Cualáin's Crash & Burn about another driver, Tommy Byrne from Dundalk in Ireland, is a more modest piece and one that might feel at home on television. Nevertheless the story it has to tell (one in which Ayrton Senna himself is not an irrelevant figure) is an interesting one.


The very title reveals that as Byrne looks back on his life we will learn of a professional career that seemed to promise success but ended in failure. Indeed when we first meet Byrne, who tells his own story but with interspersed comments from friends and others who are or have been part of the racing world, he has been settled (not unhappily it should be said) for many years as a modest coach in a driving school in Ohio. What then follows is a traditional documentary with a familiar mix of material (these days it is no surprise when some animation is included) and a chronological approach.


What emerges is a broader portrait of motor racing, especially when it comes to Formula 1 being an elitist sport in which having money to further your career is important. Byrne who left school at fifteen was the opposite of that, a working class boy who might have made good since his talents as a driver emerging in the 1980s were formidable. But, if his background didn't help, his eventual failure was also down to his personality (never hesitating to claim that he was the best driver in the world he was cocky in the extreme and always ready to live off others) and to his personal failings. Uncontrolled in his teen years he would embrace the world of drinking and partying together with the pursuit of women which came his way readily  once he was an established driver. The Byrne of today fully acknowledges this with the low point being a period in Mexico with highly dubious backers after a failed bid to be taken on by McLaren. So, while this is a film that will engage lovers of motor racing, it is also an involving portrait of a man sometimes unfairly disadvantaged who could also be his own worst enemy. As for how he feels now when he looks back, he provides at the film's close a one-sentence description that sums things up as neatly as one could wish.             




Featuring  Tommy Byrne, Eddie Jordan, Martin Brundle, Michael Hughes. 


Dir Seán Ó Cualáin, Pro David Burke, Screenplay David Burke, Ph Réamonn MacDonncha, Ed John Murphy, Music Ray Harman.


DOt television-Wildcard Distribution.
85 mins. Ireland. 2016. Rel: 30 December 2016. Cert. 15.