Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl & Olivia Wilde
Ron Howard has skidded off-track with several of his recent efforts (The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, The Dilemma) but with his latest project he’s found a subject that’s rich with cinematic potential.
The famous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda is one that was fated to belong on the big screen. It’s a story that will inevitably appeal to Formula One junkies, but it also carries universal themes of jealousy, the fear of death and ultimately the importance of enemies. It’s these qualities that not only make for an exhilarating spectacle, but also provide emotional resonance that will appeal to the masses.
Rush essentially provides us with two protagonists, both of whom provide narration in the film’s opening. The former (Hemsworth) is a macho womaniser who believes that sex is the breakfast of champions, the latter (Brühl) is a no-nonsense conformist hell-bent on winning. It’s clear from the offset that both characters have a lot to learn and the film follows a linear path but at such a blistering pace that there’s rarely any downtime.
The jury’s still out as to whether Hemsworth is a diverse performer. He’s a charming and suitably smug screen presence and makes for a convincing Hunt, but his delivery from time to time feels one-note and there are occasions where you half expect him to pick up his giant hammer and go off to battle Loki. Brühl, who has shone in German films such as Goodbye Lenin and The Edukators, is hands-down the stronger of the two. He’s consistently intense and believable and there are gentle nuances that display a tragic side to his personality.
The racing scenes, of which there are many, are genuinely visceral, thanks to the remarkably dynamic coverage and impeccably precise editing. The film also has a master stroke of combining dazzling cinematography (from Oscar-winning Anthony Dod Mantle) with actual archive footage which not only heightens the authenticity but serves as a reminder of how lethal F1 racing really is. It never forgets to portray the ugliness and grit of the sport as well as the glitz and glamour and it’s this element that elevates Rush above the run-of-mill sporting biopic. The injury detail in particular is painful to watch and possesses as much power as the white-knuckle on-track set pieces.
The pacing very rarely lets up, but there are occasions where the film takes a pit-stop in order to flesh out the characters. In these moments we’re suddenly asked to care for disposable love interests who merely serve as a means of redeeming our protagonists. This is especially true of Hunt’s estranged wife Suzy (Wilde), who seems to only exist in order to deliver some slightly clunky expositional dialogue. These moments don’t necessarily tarnish the overall package, but it does occasionally feel like the narrative is caged by its factual restrictions.
Rush may not be a shock to the system, but it’s a finely tuned and superbly polished machine. Howard can happily put his weak previous projects in his rear-view, because what he’s made here is a sure-fire winner.