Movie Review: ‘Hurley’

Review by Bradley Smith

Hurley Haywood tells his heartbreaking life story which has been hidden behind his public persona for three decades. This is not just another auto racing documentary; which I admit was my first thought. In addition to the usual racing footage and interviews, Hurley shares both his love of the industry and his love for another man; a man who has been hiding on the sidelines for decades due to their fear of humanity’s shameful prejudices.

The film opens by highlighting some of Hurley’s career and ominously suggesting he was a completely different person of the track as if being gay was something to hide. Though they are talking about a career that reaches back to the 70s when fewer people were open about their sexuality and even fewer were accepting of it. Some 40-50 years later, we’ve got a documentary in which an actor, racer, and executive producer claims he isn’t sure if the auto racing industry is ready to accept openly gay racers; now that’s progress.

Throughout the movie, Hurley, Patrick Dempsey, and others discuss Hurley’s legacy in the racing world. Hurley is a five-time 24 Hours of Daytona winner, three-time Le Mans winner and Trans-Am champion, all of which probably sounds more impressive to auto racing fans. About 20-25 minutes in, the film throws in a curve and introduces Bill, Hurley’s husband.

Hurley and Bill are fascinating storytellers. They’re not just talking about these events like it is something that happened, they are speaking from the heart like it is something that matters to them. They really added an emotional level that helps to connect with the viewers. Unfortunately, their story is depressing and not uncommon. Though he hesitates at first, Bill discusses meeting Hurley at the height of his career, but not knowing who he is, and subsequently attending most of his races but being unable to celebrate in the winner’s circle like a wife or girlfriend would.

The film also discusses the life and effects of Hurley’s racing partner, Peter Gregg, who allegedly overshadowed Hurley until his death in 1980. If racing names pass you by, maybe you’ll be interested to hear Patrick Dempsey is also featured in the film. Apparently, the actor from Enchanted and Greys Anatomy is also a racer and helped make this movie serving as an executive producer.

Archive footage is blended with new interviews to create a well woven, albeit fairly typical documentary. While it has heartbreaking moments, it is also enlightening and intriguing. Well worth a look even if you are not a racing fan. There is an underlying message about openness and acceptance that sadly still has not gotten around enough.

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