Rush is the kind of spectacular sports drama that’s so well executed, it won’t matter if you’ve never cared about racing before. Just sit back and enjoy Director Ron Howard’s latest exhilarating effort based on the real life story of one of the most competitive rivalries in sports history.
For audiences whose familiarity with Formula One racing begins and ends with Mario Andretti, arguably the Michael Jordan of his sport, Howard provides a tremendous introduction to perhaps the sport’s Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
The film centers around the rivalry between the two during the 1970s — first as aspiring drivers looking to break into the circuit — and then as the best at their craft in a tightly contested 1976 season.
Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, Red Dawn) is the playboy who would be famous to the point of obnoxiousness in the TMZ era.
Clearly a man ahead of his time, Hunt relished in the fruit of his labor from wild parties, sleeping with scores of beautiful women and indulging in alcohol and other illicit substances.
With his 6’3” frame and flowing blond hair, it’s easy to buy into Hemsworth as the charismatic sex-symbol who spellbinds beautiful women (Natalie Dormer, Olivia Wilde) and is rarely seen without a bottle or cigarette.
His rival, Lauda (Daniel Bruhl, Inglourious Basterds), has only one addiction — winning.
As he accomplished in Frost/Nixon, screenwriter Peter Morgan pens a script that skillfully builds up both characters and constantly pits them against one another leading to a final conflict where everything is on the line.
While Lauda has a prickly personality, Morgan doesn’t vilify him. The story’s too good to pigeonhole Hunt or Lauda in the typical protagonist/antagonist roles granting the audience an all-too rare opportunity to decide who to cheer for and the movie is all the better for it.
And remarkably, as the film plays out, Morgan creates an intriguing dilemma where the character we’re initial rooting on, may not be the one we want to see emerge victorious by the conclusion.
The film is just over two hours, but almost feels too short. Though we have a surface comprehension of the two leads, the movie misses the opportunity to show the pair in a different light.
Bruhl gets the meatier, more complex role and he seizes the moment with a performance signaling that the race for best supporting actor is solidly underway. He’s able to make Lauda a taxing perfectionist with little time for reveling in the moment.
Behind the wheel, he’s in perfect control, but in relating to others particularly the enchanting Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), he’s a wreck. Bruhl handles these awkward interactions with surprising subtlety, resisting the urge to make a spectacle of his character and clearly illustrates why Lauda excels at a sport where he just has to leave everyone else behind.
That’s not the challenge for Hemsworth, who has the easier role of hard-partying pretty boy. The role is fairly one-note, but Hemsworth manages, if however briefly, to tease that there’s more to Hunt than he lets on to anyone.
Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is styled like you’re watching an old 70s show with a hint of washed out sepia tones to give a more dated appearance while Julian Day’s costume designs complete the trip back through time. Howard doesn’t play the style or the time frame for laughs, a rarity these days, instead treating everything deadly serious.
Howard truly provides a sense of the speed and the death-defying nature of the sport and when he gives a behind the wheel perspective, you may find yourself swerving and pumping imaginary brakes. An errant move here, a reckless decision or faulty equipment there could lead to serious injury or worse.
As the racers prepare to navigate through a rainy final race, we’re well aware the additional danger posed from the elements and now with our full investment, Howard sends the racers out against the rainstorm in a beautifully staged finale.
It’s somewhat silly to proclaim Rush as one of the best racing movies of all time since there’s only a handful worth watching. Instead, just consider it a fantastic sports drama worth racing to see on the big screen.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Jaap Buitendijk/Universal Studios