Film Information: Released in the UK September 13th 2013; Certificate 15
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth; Daniel Brühl; Olivia Wilde; Christian McKay; Alexandra Maria Lara; Stephen Mangan; Natalie Dormer
Screenwriter: Peter Morgan
Running Time: 122 Minutes
James Hunt (Hemsworth) is an aspiring racing driver who epitomises the definition of playboy, mixing racing with plenty of womanising, alcohol and drugs. Confident and cocky, Hunt is sure he will eventually find his way in to Formula 1, but is pushed hard at Formula 3 level by Austrian rookie Niki Lauda (Brühl). This rivalry eventually brews in to one that consumes both of them, interfering with their vastly different lives, as the focused Lauda and the fun-loving Hunt become embroiled in a battle for the 1976 world championship. With Formula 1 being as unsafe as it was in those days, they both readily admit there is a chance they could die, but just how far will they take it to beat the other?
Sports dramas always have to toe the line between becoming too technical and exclusive and ensuring there’s enough of the subject in the film so as to make sure it doesn’t fall in to the background. Director Ron Howard (Cinderella Man; Apollo 13) is something of a master when it comes to pacing an action film perfectly, and together with great performances by the likes of Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Daniel Brühl (Good Bye Lenin!) he achieves a great sense of balance between the subject matter and the more human side of the film, making Rush one of very few standout sports films.
From the start, Rush ensures that we’re invested in our characters, juxtaposing their personalities very well as it set up a rivalry that while quite common in the genre, is still hard to pull off. It cuts very well from Hemsworth’s exuberant James Hunt to the methodical, cold Lauda and their separate backstories are actually very interesting. Hunt is perfectly portrayed as your much-loved bad boy, a smooth-talking womaniser and very regular drinker who regularly has a lady on his arm and a bottle in his hands, even seconds before a race. This, when compared with Lauda’s very structured, efficient and methodical manner makes it very easy to see why the two so obviously talented drivers would cause sparks to fly from that very first Formula 3 race. Howard glues us to the screen brilliantly in this way and within the first half an hour we’re heavily invested and are laughing, smiling and even frowning along with those on the screen.
Along with its strong characterisation, the film packs a punch with some great visuals and pounding, immersive noise. The sheer scale and drama of the race sequences is made abundantly clear by a powerful soundtrack, and every rev of the engine can be heard as Hunt and Lauda power down the track. This makes for a lot of excitement and should thrill anyone, even if you aren’t a formula 1 fan at all. Since the 60 lap aspect of live formula 1 is obviously shortened to make for some very tense moments, one wishes that real formula 1 would follow suit. Nonetheless, this is a triumph of Howard’s and should endear it to cinemagoers in the US, even if the sport is nowhere near as large over there.
Howard depicts neither man as the one you should definitely root for, so it is definitely unlike compatriots like Rocky in that sense. What he does instead is give us a depiction of both Hunt and Lauda with all baggage included. Hemsworth manages to portray Hunt as someone who hides all his fears and determination under a mask of suaveness, and to whom the pressure really does tell at times, and Lauda is shown to be the sort of guy that no one would get along with since he’s standoffish and sometimes downright unpleasant. Sure, these polar opposites shoot off clear signals from the start that perhaps the bad beginnings will blossom in to something more respectful for the rivals, but Howard handles it well, and it never feels forced.
And that is one of the most important things about the film. Sure, it can be predictable and does fall back on sports film tropes, but it is engaging from start to finish and throws you in to a story that you know will resonate, despite the odd cliché. It is highly entertaining, high-octane action with a great cast and moments that range from the comic to the dramatic, the romantic and the brutal. It may not be groundbreaking, but it’s Hollywood cinema at its best, and a damn good lesson in sports history for anyone who doesn’t know about the whole Hunt/Lauda saga, even if it does get touched up a bit for the big screen. It goes to show, even after making The Da Vinci Code, that Howard can thankfully still pick a good project despite the risks of financial failure, and in a way it may be indebted to that most ridiculous of movies. In an odd way as a result I’m thankful for it. Now that’s something I never thought I’d say.