Apart from being a reflection of true life, Ron Howard’s Rush is a bloody good story – weaving a wondrous mixture of motor racing at its peak of excitement and danger with a biopic of a naughty Brit and a haughty Austrian at the top of their game in the mid 70’s.
The film focuses on the personalities and pains of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) from when they met in Formula 3 to their classic year-long duel for the 1976 FIA Formula One World Championship. Hemsworth’s Hunt reflects the English playboy more at home with booze and a tasty, compliant blonde than battling on the tarmac. Lauda is spookily portrayed by a brilliant Bruhl as the steely-eyed technician and perfectionist (who later mentored the meticulous Senna to championship glory). Whilst sympathetic to both, neither character is given primacy and their respective flaws are amplified in what is a well-crafted character piece with on-track action blended in as the common narrative. The audience roots for neither but with Bruhl’s mimicry of the Austrian likely to resonate more strongly with race fans. He really is Lauda.
Howard’s race scenes are perhaps the film’s one limitation. He has combined real footage with crafted reconstructions well, but whereas the 2010 documentary Senna was able to draw on excellent race coverage expertly edited together, Howard was possibly limited in his necessary re-creations by budget. They come across as slightly stilted with snap-cut editing that might not always please petrolheads looking for a rerun of the 1976 season. This is a minor criticism, though, as the racing cuts in well to emphasise the danger that pervaded F1 in the 70s – creating what is a great piece of entertainment. Ever a director for detail, Howard met the challenge of re-imagining a contest that was well documented by the media whilst producing a good story for all. There are some great pieces – Lauda’s genius for race engineering; Hunt’s routine pre-race puking; Lauda’s bravery in dealing with horrific injuries; Hunt dealing privately and viciously with a Brit journo’s tasteless questioning of Lauda following his return from near-death; Lauda’s admiring epitaph for Hunt as his greatest rival despite their contrasting styles. Peter Morgan’s script is neat – not attempting to polish over Hunt’s rough edges, especially in his womanising and substance abuse, nor to canonise Lauda.
Worthy mentions for Alexandra Maria Lara (see her early turn in Control) for her touching characterisation of Marlene Lauda, and Olivia Wilde with a neat Brit accent as the short-suffering Suzy Hunt. Rush is worth seeing at a decent cinema with good sound and a big screen. Loved it.