After the acclaim of Formula One documentary Senna, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood found a big story from the sport to give it the glitzy treatment. In the case of Rush, they chose wisely – the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s was a thrilling contest of drama on the track, and equally challenging of it. In Chris Hemsworth as the British charmer Hunt and Daniel Brühl playing the up-tight Austrian, Rush is a classic chalk and cheese rivalry that, while not historically accurate, makes for a gripping, near-factual drama.
The long blond locks and chiselled features of Hemsworth ensure he gives Hunt the look of a ladies man, but it is his impressive on-screen charisma that really shines. As a budding racer in the lower divisions of motor sport, he likes to drink, charms the ladies and wins by taking risks. Lauda is presented as the polar opposite. He likes to calculate the risks, doesn’t drink and speaks frankly – even to those he needs a favour from just to get into Formula One. Both immensely talented, in their first race Hunt and Lauda collide leading to Lauda’s retirement and Hunt’s victory, plus a first war of words playing on their differences.
Could be in line for Oscar glory come next February.
From then on screenwriter Peter Morgan is at pains to use every off-track moment featuring Hunt and Lauda to highlight their conflicting attitudes to women, to forcing their way into Formula One and to life generally, but that is where Rush comes to life. While not totally accurate, Morgan infuses the film with an emotional pull that finely balances their viewpoints so you’re always engrossed in both of their fortunes, rather than rooting for one over another. Though Hunt is very much the underdog at times on track, and particularly when Lauda wins a drive with Ferrari, leading to a desire to see Lauda fall, when his rival is involved in a terrible crash leaving horrific injuries, the stage is set for a gripping finale.
Director Ron Howard has proved himself adept at bringing thrills to true stories on screen in the past (Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon), and with Rush you might expect the racing to be the highlight but it ends up being more of a diversion than the focal point. The on track action looks authentically reproduced to the point it will be accepted by fans of the sport – particularly the Murray Walker hints – and captures the tension in the pits. However, Rush is about more than just who won what and how, there’s depth to this sporting biopic which could even see it in line for Oscar glory come next February.