“Everyone’s driven by something.”
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Daniel Bruhl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde
Synopsis: The merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
Rush, Ron Howard’s dissection of the intense rivalry during most of the 1970s between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth — Snow White and the Huntsman, The Cabin in the Woods) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl — Inglourious Basterds) attributes that rivalry to the diametric opposition of the two men’s characters. Hunt was a playboy who enjoyed booze and women — which probably explains why he died of a heart attack at just 45 years of age — and relished the proximity to death to which motor racing brought him — “the closer to death you are,” he explains in voiceover, “the more alive you feel, the more alive you are”. The Austrian Lauda was a clinically efficient technician, as knowledgeable about the cars he drove as the designer who created them and the mechanic who maintained them. He denied himself a young man’s pleasures in life in order to drive, while Hunt drove in order to be able to indulge in them with ever greater enthusiasm.
Their story begins in 1970, when both were at the start of their careers, driving in Formula 3 races. Hunt has the financial backing of the dissolute Lord Hesketh (Christian McKay), but Lauda has none, and when his industrialist grandfather refuses to provide him with finance, is forced to buy his way into a Formula 1 racing team. The two men’s careers progress at an equal pace, and their rivalry grows increasingly intense, culminating in the mammoth duel during the 1976 season which saw Lauda continue to vie for the winning positions despite suffering horrific burns at the notorious Nurburgring course.
While he delivers a fascinating insight into a gripping episode in Formula 1 history, the subject of Ron Howard’s movie also, in a way, becomes something of a problem. Because Hunt and Lauda were such different beasts, it’s almost impossible for Howard to avoid portraying the cavalier Hunt as a latter-day buccaneer, casting a giant shadow as he strode across the race tracks of the world, while Lauda struggles to overcome the rat-like features and emotional coldness of an archetypal screen villain. For this reason, we seem to spend much more time in Hunt’s company than Lauda’s, and writer Peter Morgan sometimes struggles to generate any sympathy for the Austrian driver, even though he is the one who suffers most while, by comparison, Hunt practically breezes through the whole episode physically unscathed, if not psychologically. Despite this, Morgan’s screenplay provides as balanced an appraisal as it’s realistic to hope for, and while we might not warm to Lauda’s character, we do at least admire him by the movie’s end. And where Rush really does score is in the way that it understands that each man was as much of a mystery to one another as all racing drivers are to the rest of us. Hunt and Lauda never really understood what made the other man tick, and Rush captures that fact brilliantly.
Rush benefits from some terrific work from the two leads. Hemsworth, an actor generally considered as something of a lightweight thanks to his participation in accountant-pleasing fare such as the Thor movies, captures Hunt perfectly, not just in looks but in the tone and inflection of his vocal delivery. Bruhl is also the spitting image of Lauda, but also has the task of coping with a much more demanding role due to the relative psychological complexity of his character. Howard also does well recapturing the look and flavour of 1970s Formula 1 racing, with tyre changes that take forever, regular crashes — “25 drivers start every season in Formula One,” says Lauda, “and each year, two of us die. What kind of person does a job like this?” — and bone-shaking cars that were wholly unreliable compared to the high-tech machines of today.
Do yourself a favour — be sure to watch Rush. It’s without doubt one of the best films released in 2013. And if you really want to treat yourself, start watching it a couple of hours before a real Formula 1 race to get you right in the mood. Because all Rush is lacks is that driving hook from Fleetwood Mac’s Chains.