James Hunt and Niki Lauda had one of the greatest rivalries the world of Formula 1 had ever seen, and the Ron Howard directed, Peter Morgan scripted Rushperfectly captures the deeper essence and meaning of their competition, as well as the inherent sex, glamour and action of the 70s sports setting.
Morgan has become an expert of the modern-history screenplay, with the Oscar-baiting The Queen, and the most thrilling movie of two men talking ever with Frost/Nixon. In the latter Morgan builds the interviews between the two contrasting characters on a sports-movie type template, with the underestimated underdog mounting a stunning comeback against the overly cocky heavy-weight. Morgan builds on that experience inRush to pit the two drivers against one another. Chris Hemsworth fully embodies everything that was the handsome, reckless, carefree playboy James Hunt, while Daniel Brühl excellently sinks himself fully into the character of Niki Lauda, the rat-faced, diligent professional, whose blunt social manner and uncaring air mask his internal insecurities.
The two men meet in the low ranks of Formula 3, where they immediately become enemies when Hunt’s irresponsible driving puts both their lives at risk. While Hunt lives the life of a sporting rock star, and equates being a racing driver to the death-defying life of a knight, Lauda sees racing as much as a business as a passion, and is willing to accept 20% risk of death, no more. The film charts the interweaving course of their lives over the next six years, how their journeys to the top mirrored each other in many ways, until the famous 1976 season, when the eyes of the world were fixed on their intense rivalry. But it also manages to show how these two seeming opposites were in fact similar in many ways, that this was not some simple hatred, but based on a deep respect and knowledge that their rival was a good influence on them in life and racing.
Howard shows that he’s become a master of recreating the mood and feel of the 70s (after Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon), and while the film reflects many classic sports-movie tropes, it mostly manages to transcend them with excellent character work and superior, tense, and thrilling action scenes. The racing is some of, if not the best ever put on screen (and not just for fans). After highly pedestrian affairs like the Dan Brown adaptations, it feels like Howard has been able to break free and experiment, find his directing mojo, and the sheer variety and experimental choice of shots brings an incredible immediacy and intensity to the race recreations, aided by a thumping score from Hans Zimmer.
The film zips along briskly with much wit and laughs in the beginning, then allows the slower moments of introspection, the troubled marriages, the spectre of deaths that looms over the sport, enough room to affect without putting on the brakes too heavily. Hemsworth brings an enormous amount of charisma and presence to Hunt, while Brühl does nice work quietly revealing the complexity to his character.
Rush is almost, but not quite, an absolutely classic sporting movie. Hemsworth and Brühl are excellent in their respective roles, while Howard creates a totally immersive world, complete with thrilling racing action and, more importantly, gripping characters.
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl
Distributor: Hopscotch Films
Runtime: 123 minutes