Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde
You may like this if you liked: Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010), Warrior (Gavin O’Conner, 2011), Closer to the Edge (Richard De Aragues, 2011)
Rush tells the true story of 1970s Formula One drivers, and bitter rivals James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Brühl) up until the dramatic 1976 season. From when they first raced against each other in Formula Three, these two hugely conflicting characters were destined to become rivals as one constantly pushed the other. James Hunt was the maverick handsome English playboy who enjoyed life’s decadent excesses, while Lauda was the rat like introverted diligent perfectionist. Despite their differences, these two bitter rivals were united in their goal of beating each other on the track and push each other to (and beyond) the limit.
As a huge motor racing fan I was really looking forward to this. For a sport that can be so dramatic (especially in the past when it was much more dangerous) motor racing had not exactly been given the justice it had deserved with the so-so cheese fest Days of Thunder and the comically god awful Driven. Though they were not Formula One, they basically made a mockery of all motor racing. Then two excellent motor sport documentaries came along in the form of Senna and Closer to the Edge, proving that motor racing and cinema can be a match made in heaven if done properly. I expect the huge and thoroughly deserved success of Senna paid a huge role in Hollywood willing to fund a dramatised story of another Formula One rivalry, and it is a great, great story. Surely there is no way this can go wrong? Well, then I heard Ron Howard was directing it and, and considering his CV, I shuddered.
Well, thankfully Howard has produced in my view what has to be one of his best films. This is an exhilarating thrill ride of a film that is well written, acted, edited and directed. Petrol heads like myself will certainly not be disappointed, but those that are not fans of motor racing (and I know there are many) will struggle to not be thrilled either. The on track action is exhilarating, but there is also great heart and two extremely well developed protagonists making Rush appealing to any cinema fan who simply just wants to see a great human story.
The fact is that there is so much to tell in the story of Hunt and Lauda, both in terms of their rivalry and their own individual lives, as they both lead fascinating lives and careers. It was going to be a challenge deciding what to put in this film, giving the fact Hollywood likes a nice conventional narrative with character arcs and all that. Screenwriter Peter Morgan’s decision to focus on their personal rivalry on the track with the key focus on the incredibly dramatic 1976 season definitely works for me. The dramatic finale to that season provides a truly memorable piece of cinema and Rush certainly does that great moment of sporting history true justice.
In terms of character development, for me there is just enough attention given to their own personalities and personal lives to get inside the respective heads of these very conflicting characters. However this is just enough, without the film being bogged down by pointless exposition. For me Morgan gets just right the balance between character development and on tack action, meaning that the two hours really do rush by (sorry). Perhaps the difference between our protagonists is emphasised a little too much and that, as well as the commentary on the races, is a little patronising as it feels it has to explain itself more than it really needs to. There are also certain plot elements that have been tweaked a little bit to make the story that little bit neater (and perhaps make the characters arcs a little too obvious), but hey, this is Hollywood!
However, this is an otherwise exhilarating and incredibly enjoyable film. The racing sequences are breathtaking and truly exciting. This was a time when Formula One was genuinely dangerous and the swooping camerawork and super quick editing fully capture the speed and danger of the time. Though there was obviously CGI used, this was most definitely used sparingly as there is an authentic feel to the whole film. Anthony Mantle’s grainy cinematography adds genuine realism to the scenes and this does feel like the 1970s, and the danger when driving these extremely powerful cars feels very real indeed. The budget is apparently only around $38 million, and if that is true then it is extremely impressive what has been achieved with it. I was also impressed with the decision to keep a 15 certificate; this was needed to capture the horrifying realities of motor racing when it was a matter of life and death.
Two strong protagonists need of course to be justified by two great performances, and Hemsworth and Brühl are on top form. I was sceptical about Hemsworth beforehand and though his middle class Home Counties accent occasionally wants to wander back to Home and Away his accent is not that bad. He may be playing Thor with a Surrey accent, but he manages to capture the swagger and self destructive tragedy that James Hunt encapsulated very well indeed, producing an extremely likeable and compelling character. Daniel Brühl has produced some great performances in the past and produces what in my view should be an Oscar nominated performance. He not only does the mannerisms and German-Austrian accent perfectly, but makes a character with so many potentially unlikeable characteristics extremely likeable. This is a film where both characters are heroes, we want both of them to succeed and it is their two hugely contrasting approaches that make them equally fascinating and compelling.
Rush is a long overdue reminder that motor racing and cinema can be such a potent mix. The perfect balance of stunning action and genuine heart, combined with two impressive leading performances has produced what for me is not only one of Ron Howard’s best films but one of the year’s best. A truly thrilling and enjoyable film experience.