Release Date: September 27, 2013
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriter: Peter Morgan
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jamie de Courcey, Pierfrancesco Favino, Natalie Dormer
Genre: Drama, Action
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images, and brief drug use
If you’re not a racing fan, then it’s likely you haven’t heard of Niki Lauda and James Hunt, two of the most well-known Formula One drivers of the 1970s. And since it’s based on a true story, it’s very easy to fall into a trap of excessive dramatization and lack of character focus, but Rush is a victim of neither. Director Ron Howard, who hasn’t had a good film since Frost/Nixon, is back on track (pun intended!).
Based on a true story of Formula One racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), Rush is less about racing and more about their layered motivations, relationship, and rivalry on the racetrack. The two differ in many things and yet by the end of the film we realize they really have more in common than is believed. In personality, they are polar opposites, save for the arrogance they both seem to have in spades. James Hunt is a womanizer, heavy drinker, and puts fun ahead of his work. Niki Lauda is disciplined, focused, and a little ruthless when it comes to how he wants things done.
The two develop a rivalry in 1971 that spans most of a decade until Hunt’s retirement, but it’s the 1976 Formula One season and championship that Howard chooses to focus on in the latter half of the film. Hunt and Lauda both come from privileged families and choose to pursue their own paths and not follow in their families’ footsteps of businessmen and doctors.
Lauda, so intent on becoming a racer, takes out a personal loan in order to get his own team. In the beginning, Lauda is leaping and bounding his way through the racing life; and while Hunt is well-known and a great racer in his own right, is always a step behind until they go head to head with each other during 1976 season. So intent on proving different things to different people, they push past their limits in a race for the championship title.
One would think that the majority of this film revolves around the actual races Lauda and Hunt are involved in, but that’s not the case here, which is nice since I’m sure many people don’t know very much about it. The focus is on the lives and rivalry of the two leads on and off the track. Howard highlights their initial loathing and the film grows from there until they become reliant on bringing out the best in each other. They learn to respect and challenge each other, even when their motivations are different.
Chris Hemsworth finally proves his worth as an actor outside of Thor and he’s able to balance the act of playboy, party animal, and serious driver well. Hemsworth pulls out the charm, but is able to layer what might seem like a shallow man’s personality with undercurrents of vulnerability and drive. His best scenes are the ones of contemplation and little dialogue because he lets his expressions do the talking.
Daniel Brühl is exceptional as Lauda. He embodies the racer and when he’s pissed off, he glares with his entire being. He’s determined and controlled, his scenes in the hospital after his accident are full of vulnerability and ambition to get back on the racetrack. Brühl’s performance is a standout and he and Hemsworth have great camaraderie onscreen and make for very believable rivals.
The film is filled with little moments that drive the plot further. Nothing is overdone, Howard creating nuances in every scene that make the film that much better. The film’s run time is around two hours, though it never feels like it’s that long, the story gripping and solid. The final conversation between Brühl and Hemsworth is so well done and sums up the entire movie and their relationship so well that it’ll leave you feeling a little sad afterward.
Ron Howard has created a film that isn’t exclusive to racing fans and focuses on the characters and their stories on and off the track. The acting is fantastic, the story cohesive, and the drama balanced with lighter moments and quick-witted banter between the lead actors. Rush is Howard’s best work in years.