In 1976, two Formula One racers compete on and off the track, as the smooth talking, charismatic James Hunt of Britain faced off against Austria’s stern outcast, Niki Lauda.
Chris Hemsworth is Hunt, with rippling muscles and long locks, while Daniel Brühl is Niki, direct, closed-off and a treat to watch in every scene. Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara appear as well as the racers’ significant others, and both are, of course, beautiful.
It seems fitting a film that features harrowing racing sequences in which victory and vehicular destruction are separated by mere inches, must itself carefully mind the slimmest of gaps when it comes to storytelling and characterization.
The feuding fueled racers, diametrically opposed, must be individual enough to be compelling, yet broad enough to be relatable. At the same time, this sport that is for the most part unfamiliar in North America (perhaps particularly the 1970s racing season) must be accessible to the masses without being dumbed down, and authentic to diehard fans without being too obscure.
So while he may slightly skid off the track or bump an opponent, or even get spun around once or twice, director Ron Howard commands a thriller of a film that is intense, invigorating, and in its final sequence, starkly riveting.
As loud and unnerving and fierce as the racing sequences are – and they are quite memorable if not completely captivating – it’s the two leads and their well-written characters that surprise and hold up this film.
Hunt and Lauda are broadly painted, one a charming Adonis able to take any woman to bed in an instant, and the other a weasel-like, cold-hearted and calculative competitor. Choosing sides, however, isn’t an easy at it may seem at first. And for the likely many who don’t know the outcome of that season of racing, and I implore you to wait until after you see the film, you may find yourselves conflicted and nervous as the dramatic conclusion nears.
So it’s slightly more complex that simply cheering on the cocky Brit over a man nicknamed ‘The Rat.’ While most of their conversations and fairly standard, Howard does not hesitate to show the dangerous, gruesome side of racing; F1 in the 70s makes the NFL today look like a children’s playground.
The two most important races of the season take place under ominous clouds and dark skies. Howard puts you in the starting lane, watching rain fall on the track as engines roar deafeningly louder, waiting for the moment the cars careen forward into uncertain terror. Should you not be privy to the inter-workings of F1 racing, Howard utilizes an announcer to guide you throughout, even if at times it’s a little bit too much.
The sights and sounds are effective, as are the performances, and Rush is far more enjoyable and engaging that it could be. Sometimes the film is a blunt object, hitting you over the head with meaning and metaphor, but most of the time it’s immersive and informative – and loud.
Should You See It?
It’s one of Howard’s best in years, and definitely a thoroughly cinematic experience. Watch it in the theatres, then queue up the documentary Senna on Netflix to complete your crash course in F1.