He's chosen the fact-based story of the 1970s Formula One racing rivalry between uptight German perfectionist Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and freewheeling Brit James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth).
The character lines are very sharply drawn - we see Lauda bent over a lathe, grinding down parts to shave a few ounces of weight, maybe gain a second or two on the racecourse. Hunt, by contrast, is pouring champagne over his head, bedding women two at a time, arguing with his model wife (Olivia Wilde) about her dalliance with Richard Burton.
That's all fine. And you can't give me too many shots of Olivia Wilde. The movie, alas, has a weakness for on-the-nose dialogue that takes Howard's visual story and makes it clumsily literal at times.
What's the point, Hunt is forced to say, of being champion if you can't have fun?
Another question: What's the point of visual storytelling if you're going to turn around and stipulate the movie's themes for the guy in the back row who's been checking his fantasy stats the whole time?
In that vein, we have Lauda recovering from a near-death racetrack crash, telling Hunt that their rivalry caused him to crash, but also gave him the will to recover.
It helps that Bruhl is saying it. The Spanish-German actor is the movie's best feature. The guy's made dozens of movies, but he really pops here in his first big Hollywood role. Rarely has an actor embraced a character's prickly attributes so cleverly, and in the process turned an unpleasant personality into an asset.
He's a convincing jerk, yet somehow winning and funny - don't miss his marriage proposal, it's one for the ages.