In order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. Rush embodies all the zest of the aforementioned motivational line to promote rivalry as a path to self-improvement. The competition between Formula-1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) seems almost too big for one film, and the narrative struggles to maintain the equilibrium of their personas, but the racing is exhilarating and director, Ron Howard, manages to deliver an emotional sucker-punch that I happily took in the eyeballs.
Set during the 1970s, Hunt and Lauda start their driving careers as foes racing in Formula-3 which continues through to F1 and comes to a head during the 1976 season in which both drivers were willing to risk everything to become world champion.
Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan look to the drama off the racing circuit to give Hunt and Lauda an emotional backbone to justify their actions on the track. Hunt is an English playboy with an air of James Bond who introduces himself as “Hunt, James Hunt”, a clever reference point by Morgan. Hunt is prone to impulsive recklessness which bogs his natural talent that’s juxtaposed with Lauda who is methodical, intelligent and abrasive in his approach to achieving excellence. With two complex personalities at play, it’s a tough for Howard and Morgan to juggle everything about these men within the era of time covered but they nail the basics. Rush excels when Hunt and Lauda are taunting one another or even glaring at each other across pit-lane. Diversions into Hunt’s personal life are problematic and the character never fully evolves beyond his status as a walking libido, while Lauda’s story is a more engaging, particularly his relationship with his wife (Alexandra Maria Lara) and the incredible personal and physical challenges he faces.
Howard does spend a lot of time engaged in F1 foreplay and you almost pine for the racing sequences because it’s such a thrilling space to occupy. Hemsworth and Brühl may take top billing but the supporting cast of high performance F1 cars roar with the fury of a dragon with an ingrown toenail. The sounds of F1 are as iconic as the images of the slick industrial designs and Howard’s team of sound engineers brilliantly capture the atmosphere of the racing track. Luckily, the back-end of the film is where the racing intensifies and collides with the dramatic entanglement of Hunt and Lauda in spectacular style.
Hunt is imbued with overconfidence in Hemsworth’s performance and the actor is at his best when indulging in Hunt’s foolish behaviour, but there’s not enough depth to the character for anything juicer. Brühl is like a tactician playing Lauda and you get a sense of the brains behind the wheel that made the sportsman a world champion.
Rush spins its wheels at times but it’s a fine tale about two men intrinsically linked by opposition who agitated each other into the history books.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies