Release Date: 13th September 2013
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Natalie Dormer
Formula 1 in the 1970s was glamorous, dangerous and downright crazy. Ripping round corners at 170mph in tiny metal coffins emblazoned with adverts for fags, drivers raced in the face of death for fortune and glory. The story of the intense rivalry between clinical and methodical Austrian Niki Lauda and boozy English playboy James Hunt, Ron Howard’s latest film Rush manages to capture the thrill and terror of this setting. Culminating in the volatile 1976 Formula 1 World Championship in which Lauda famously suffered a horrific crash, the story spans six years in the careers and personal lives of these two very different men.
Beginning in 1970 when Hunt and Lauda first meet during a Formula 3 race, Rush quickly displays the prowess of the drivers as well as the hugely contrasting styles they embody. Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) prepares for races by meticulously studying the course and learning the strengths and limitations of his car. Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) readies himself with a glass of champagne, a toke of a joint and a ritual pre-race vomit. Casting someone primarily known for playing a vicious Nazi sniper as the blunt and unpopular Lauda against a bona fide movie star as the swaggering Hunt is a canny move. As reasonable as Lauda is, there’s something disconcerting in his calculated manner; as reckless as Hunt may be, he’s hugely charismatic.
The drivers are defined by their rivalry as they progress through the world of motorsport; rising to the top of Formula 1, they constantly measure their triumphs and failures against those of their opponent. However Rush suffers slightly when it moves away from the track. Scenes of the drivers’ home lives feel slightly laboured; Hunt’s brief marriage to model Suzy Miller and her subsequent affair with Richard Burton are skimmed over and have little consequence to the rest of the film. Likewise it is at great pains to remind its audience of Hunt’s bad boy lifestyle without actually showing much in the way of naughtiness. Unless having long hair and liking sex in the 70s was particularly unruly (it wasn’t).
While Rush seems to gloss over large parts of the tumultuous life of Hunt, it struggles to find any real tension for Lauda outside of racing until his crash when his painful recovery and will to survive come to the fore. Such a focused and rigorous man has no time for excess and hedonism, like Hunt does. Lauda lives a life of quiet nights in with his wife.
Any time the pace starts to slow however, Howard brings it back to the racing and it is here that its crowd-pleasing strengths lie. With impeccable cinematography; a fusion of modern day technology – small lightweight cameras zip around and inside moving cars – and a gritty 70s feel, it’s both authentically grimy and suffused with an old-world glamour. Similarly the sound design with its thunderous engines and squealing tires is superb, giving a real sense of speed to the races.
Much like Howard’s Apollo 13, the outcome of events in Rush will be familiar to many; footage of Hunt and Lauda’s races are freely available online, but despite this it remains gripping throughout. This is largely due to the impressive impressive technical skill on display, but also because of the incredible you-couldn’t-make-it-up nature of the story and characters. Lauda may be incredibly brave and outrageously talented, but you’d still rather go for a night out with Hunt.