Rush, directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) and written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Damned United) is a slick looking film that keeps pace with a lot of fast editing and montage. The exciting latter half racing sequences – spectacularly shot by Anthony Dod Mantle, with an understated Hans Zimmer score and some terrific sound design – are the highlight and improve the film significantly following an underwhelming dual insight into the story’s central rivals. Brit James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) became the fiercest of competitors during the mid 1970’s, with the 1976 F1 season becoming one of the most tumultuous in the sport’s history. Their intense rivalry – which began at a small-time scuffle at a Formula Three race at the Crystal Palace circuit and eventually pitted two of the leading F1 teams in McLaren and Ferrari against one another – became an industry sensation. Throughout the season their personal lives played a role in their ability to focus on their driving, while suspensions, ongoing arguments about each other’s character, and devastating accidents significantly change the lives of these drivers and their relationship. The series of events – which continue to escalate - are shocking and exhilarating, and Howard has put together a film sure to be universally pleasing.
The most poignant theme addressed in Rush is that one can take on the traits of their polar opposite, their bitter rival, when the pressure mounts. We learn that these two men really aren’t that different, and as much as they claim to despise the other, could not have become the drivers they are without each other. When Lauda is chasing down Hunt at Nurburgring, he isn’t at all racing like himself, while Hunt, navigating the extremely dangerous Japanese circuit is playing his typical daredevil tactics, but his driving had never been more Lauda-esque, methodical and composed. This emotional connection created the strongest response for me, but I found their different traits and racing methods to be somewhat forcibly overworked in the script.
Bruhl and Hemsworth are strong. The latter is suitably charismatic, fitting the playboy, womanizing persona and convincing as the rash adrenalin junkie who is more reliant on his natural abilities than building a head for tactics. The former is quite an intense individual, forced to rise into F1 through less-flattering means. But considering that he was more tactical and mechanically gifted, and perhaps less naturally talented (and somewhat un-liked in the industry), Bruhl does a great job building a character we respect, admire and support wholeheartedly. In the latter stages of the film, when Lauda’s sense is questioned, Bruhl has some terrific scenes.
But, the focus on their respective relationships was one of the film’s weakest elements. Olivia Wilde, who plays Hunt’s supermodel wife Suzy Miller, had only a couple of sequences and spent almost her screen time in dresses with plunging necklines. Alexanda Maria Lara, as Lauda’s wife Marlene Knaus had slightly more involvement but she was often relegated to often just looking on in concern. While Hunt married for what seemed to be all of the wrong reasons, Lauda seemed to marry for no reason at all.
This rivalry, and the extraordinary ’76 season at the core, is worthy of the big-screen treatment. From my understanding, this dual portrayal is quite an accurate one. Lauda has spoken out about his surprise at how unsterilized the film is. That surprised me. It took me quite a while to get immersed in Rush, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, without ever being entirely wrapped up. Before the terrific race sequences nearing the end, I felt like montage – news headlines accompanied by brief clips from the races – was a tad overused.
F1 junkies will get a kick out of the cars, the races and a look at a different era of the sport, and personally I would have liked to have spent more time within that world. Apart from brief mention of Hunt’s design disqualification, significant team changes and politics like Lauda's plead to cancel the race at Nurburgring, there isn’t a lot of insight – a trait that I loved so much about Senna, an incomparable masterpiece of documentary filmmaking. Some iffy dialogue, and an abundance of corny moments make the focus on the personal lives less successful. There is also some peculiarly unnecessary content that pushes the film into MA rating territory too.
It is nice to see Ron Howard involved in something a little different. Rush looks and sounds amazing, and anyone who has ever competed against a rival they respect as much as they claim to loathe, or lay everything on the line for something they are passionate about, will find something to admire about this film. It falls short of greatness – because it didn’t provide the emotional impact fitting for a story this incredible - but at least it tries full throttle.
[rating=3] and a Half
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.