With Rush, Ron Howard turns his directorial attention to the 1970’s Formula 1 rivalry between English racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).
We get a great early indication of the kind of character James Hunt is when at the start of the film he turns up at a hospital injured, dressed in full race gear, and tells the nurse that his wounds came as a result of a fling with another racers wife. Naturally, he then charms her into sleeping with him too. So there you have it, as markers go, Hunt is well set up as a play boy, 2 parts arrogance to one part charm. The first time we see him race is in Formula 3 where he is established as a top racer. It’s here that he comes across Niki Lauda for the first time, and their great rivalry is born.
Lauda is nowhere near as flashy as the Englishman. Instead, he is a devoted, rather dour individual, incredibly skilled at racing and extremely knowledgeable in the setting up of a racing car. Not willing to hang around in the lower divisions, he finds a team short of money and buys his way into Formula 1, prompting Hunt’s team to do the same thing.
Through several seasons we see their rivalry grow to the point where they both become obsessed with each other. Both are fantastic racers, and through their desperation to beat the other, they are driven to incredible heights.
The story of Rush is, in itself, entertaining. There was enough real life drama that took place at the peak of their battles to ensure that any writer would have plenty to work with in fitting the tale to the big screen. In writing the screenplay, Peter Morgan has done a fine job of creating a worthy narrative arc, as well giving us engaging characters. Both of them have qualities that are loveable, just as they both have traits that are easy to loathe. Both are exciting and they are so juxtaposed in a dangerous and adrenaline fueled world that their verbal sparring is always interesting.
The real, roaring success of this movie comes in the extraordinarily brilliant recreation of racing footage. One thing that I’ve always found with watching television footage of Formula 1 is that it is incredibly difficult to get a real feel for the speed that the machines move at. Well, that’s not the case here. Every time we’re taken on to the track to either watch a race, or to experience it from inside one of the cars, it feels amazing. The viewer will get a very real sense of speed and danger. So regularly with sports films the visuals of the actual sport are below par, so to see such a realistic representation of the racing here was extremely pleasing.
Along with what you see during the race action, I think you’ll also be blown away by what you hear. F1 cars are rather loud, to put it mildly, and if there’s one reason to see this at the cinema rather than wait for a DVD release, I’d say it’s to experience that magnificent growling of these incredible machines in full cinema surround sound. I was expecting something impressive but I was actually quite taken aback by just how exceptional it was. For all of it’s other qualities, I found this visual and audial recreation to be the true highlight of the entire movie.
To be fair, it isn’t solely the racing that is given extreme care and attention by Howard and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. Towards the end of the movie, there is a pre-race segment set around a rainy racetrack. The capture of the treacherous weather conditions is sublime and, in places, strangely beautiful and is incredibly absorbing.
It would be fair to say that in telling this story, Rush never deviates for standard narrative conventions, but it does do them extremely well. In reality, as a film, it offers little new. Rivalry stories have been done a million times before, but this one is given extra gravitas by the very fact that it’s a depiction of real life events. Hemsworth and Brühl play their parts magnificently, doing great justice to the men they are depicting here.
The only slight problems I had with the film were the use of a voiceover from Brühl as Lauda, which looking back was probably unnecessary. The story is told well enough, and Brühl’s performance is good enough that you can get everything you need from the movie without a narrator. I would also argue that perhaps the ending carried a little more sentiment than it really needed too. I can see why this was decision was taken and it in no way spoils the film, I just could have done without it.
Rush is an excellent film, excellent depicting some real life events with extraordinary visuals, stunning audio and excellent leading performances and perfectly competent supporting performances too. It’s extremely cinematic so I would thoroughly recommend it as a film to catch on the big screen if you can. This stands in a good position to trouble my end of year favourites list.