Rush is a brash and pacy account of the fierce rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. I’m no student of motor racing and have no idea how much artistic license has been taken here but the way the movie tells it you couldn’t have made up two more sharply contrasting personalities: Hunt is a leonine devil-may-care playboy who spends his off-track hours boozing, drugging, and shagging glamorous models, while Lauda is a fastidious tact-free control freak who seems to regard other people’s desire for human companionship to be a sign of weakness. What they have in common is a mile-wide competitive streak and formidable talent behind the wheel, enough to take both to the brink of becoming world champion in 1976, and that particular season turned out to have moments of drama so singular that makes you wonder why they took so long to make a film out of it.
Ron Howard directs from a script by Peter Morgan, who’s got some impressive form in bringing to life famous 1970s confrontations (see Frost/Nixon, The Damned United and The Last King Of Scotland). This is, thankfully, not an experimental or arty piece – it’s tightly focussed on the two men, there’s plenty of helpful expository dialogue and on-screen captions to let you know what’s happening and why and it showcases two really rather excellent performances by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. Hemsworth is apparently Australian but you’d never guess he wasn’t born to good old English privilege and wealth based on what you see here: he captures that combination of floppy-haired charm and old-school entitlement beautifully. Brühl on the other hand has the harder job of getting the audience on-side with the obsessive and asocial Lauda but he pulls it off very well and is considerably aided in his mission by the deadpan and cutting zingers he gets handed by Morgan’s script. The verbal duelling between the two leads was in fact for me a lot more effective than the bulk of the footage of the actual races, which tends to be presented in fast-cutting montages and close-ups that don’t have the physicality of something like the chariot race in Ben-Hur, though as the season reaches its nerve-wracking climax I found myself drawn into the action despite myself.
I’ve probably got the advantage over fans of the sport in that beyond one or two hazy details I had no idea going into the film as to how this story plays out but in the end I found it thrilling, despite my longstanding bewilderment at the appeal of watching fast cars go round and round a track for hours. For fans of F1 this film is I suspect required viewing.