Verdict: It says a lot for Rush that I – a half-hearted F1 fan at best – was enthralled and at times moved by this film. A lifelike and typically gripping screenplay from Peter Morgan, assured-yet-dynamic direction from Ron Howard, masterful cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle and a scene-stealing performance from Daniel Brühl combine to bring the real life rivalry of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Brühl) to life in a movie that will entertain most people – not just fans of motor racing.
All the press I’d seen for this film billed it as basically a Hemsworth vehicle about James Hunt. Don’t get me wrong, Hemsworth is great as Hunt – the hard-living playboy of Formula 1 racing – and is incredibly easy on the eyes. But I walked away from Rush marvelling not so much at the Hemsworth-Hunt thing, but at Brühl’s portrayal of Austrian world-champion Niki Lauda. Brühl captures the competitive spirit that came to define Lauda’s life, while never losing the incredibly human aspect of his character that endeared him to millions of F1 fans.
Rush’s plot is not a closely-guarded secret: it’s a true-life story that’s there for all to see in old newspaper stories, documentary footage and somewhat graphic video on YouTube. Nevertheless, Howard’s assured directing keeps the movie fast-paced and gripping. I went into the film knowing what was going to happen and still found myself emotionally moved and enthralled. For me, the key triumph of Rush is the character portrayal. Neither Hunt nor Lauda is the clear antagonist or protagonist; they are both flawed, competitive and essentially real characters.
The actual scenes of racing in this movie are very well done – even non-lovers of motor-racing will find some exhilaration in watching the cars speeding around in beautifully saturated colour. But the real cinematic magic happens in the human interest scenes. The chemistry between all the major players – Hemsworth, Brühl, Alexandra Maria Lara (as Lauda’s wife) and Olivia Wilde (model Suzy Miller) – is spot on, with the tense exchanges between the two drivers especially gripping.
Admittedly the women of the movie have relatively little on-screen time, but their roles in the saga are integral. Lauda is initially presented as a focused, intensely ambitious and somewhat cold professional driver; Hunt his foil as the partying, sociable well-loved ladies’ man. It’s these characterisations that make the enfolding Rush so interesting: in the end Lauda forges a strong, loving marriage and Hunt is unable to hold on to his glamorous wife.
Howard has excelled at directing historical and biographical films in his career – I’m talking Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind here – and this is no exception. The costume, set and production design are all spot on and watching the film feels like being transported back to the 1970s. The script (by Morgan of The Queen fame) is both historically-accurate and interesting enough to make you really care about these petrol-heads.
Rush is pushed over the edge by its sharp editing and vivid cinematography: this is a film with a bit of everything – tension, fast cars, incredible speed and above all a dose of good old-fashioned human drama and intrigue that makes this one of the best sports movies I’ve seen and one of the most enjoyable movies of