Rush is an involving and exciting movie from Ron Howard that documents the professional rivalry between two racing car drivers at the 1976 Formula 1 season. James Hunt, the heavy-partying, heavy-drinking, prolific womaniser and star racer, and the more sombre, calculated, reserved Nikki Lauda prove to be thrilling leading characters, and writer Peter Morgan excels in making them lovable and frustrating, attractive and flawed.
Ron Howard’s career has been very diverse, ranging from comedy works such as The Grinch and The Dilemma and more serious works such as A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon (the latter of which was another partnership with Morgan). This is not his best work (I’d say both A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon are stronger pictures), but Rush is still a feast for the eyes and mind, fuelled with sex, adrenaline and really fast cars.
Though very posh and English, Hunt is played by Australian actor Chris Hemsworth. In the past Hemsworth has busied himself with fun though rather lightweight roles such as Thor and the hunky sports jock in The Cabin in the Woods. Here he hands in a turn so well pitched and magnetically watchable it may well earn him an Oscar. Daniel Bruhl, who most audiences will associate with Inglorious Bastards, is also excellent as Lauda and his acting in the scenes involving his near-fatal racing accident are heartbreaking. He brings a sense of pain, rawness and truth to those scenes that no amount of make-up and special effects could ever do on their own.
Morgan’s screenplay takes liberties with the truth quite a bit. Hunt and Lauda’s personal hatred of each other is greatly exaggerated. In real life they were good friends and for a while lived together. Lauda’s character has been manipulated somewhat in order to make him more of a contrast to the sexually driven Hunt. But these changes have been made so we have a more entertaining film to watch and they don’t jar too much.
The second half of the movie, the one which is concerned with the heartpumping car racing, is noticeably stronger than the first. To start with, the film gets going on a rather uneven footing and feels awkward switching between Lauda and Hunt. When their stories intertwine, and they start sharing a racetrack more conspicuously onscreen, the whole thing feels a lot more slick and streamlined.
I did have a problem with one particular scene. After the car crash that disfigured his face, a journalist asks Lauda a question about whether his marriage will last now that he looks so different. To teach him a lesson, Hunt takes him into a room and brutally assaults the reporter. Whether this happened in real life or not I do not know, but I objected to the film portraying Hunt’s actions as gallant and justified. The journalist was insensitive. Hunt’s actions, however, were vicious.
The female actors in the movie don’t have a lot to do, but when they are onscreen they are very well played. Olivia Wilde, as Hunt’s wife, is a commanding presence and manages an English accent just as well as Hemsworth. The real female power, however, is Romanian actor Alexandra Maria Lara, as Lauda’s other half. She manages to steal every scene she is in, even those in which she remains silent.
Some are hailing Rush as a masterpiece. It isn’t quite that, but it is a fantastic experience; a Formula 1 movie that works for audiences whether they love motor racing or couldn’t care less about it. And you must see it on the biggest screen you can find: it deserves it.
Rush (2013), directed by Ron Howard, is released in the UK by StudioCanal, Certificate 15.