The 1976 Formula One season saw the simmering rivalry between lothario James Hunt and the disciplined tactician Niki Lauda reach its gripping conclusion and the fascinating true story now has its deserved cinematic adaptation, directed by the acclaimed Ron Howard. ‘Rush’ tracks their bitter clash of personalities on and off the grid, from when they first met as amateurs but focuses its attention on the season in which they both had to endure personal hurdles in their determined battle to the top. James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) juggles his playboy lifestyle with his racing ambition whereas Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is forced to overcome severe personal trauma in his plight to succeed, both paths hurtling towards the finish line in this gloriously tense biopic of two of the sport’s most memorable figures.
The race sequences are extremely well put together, the vintage cars giving a brilliant sense of authenticity, accompanied by an orchestral score composed expertly by the veteran Hans Zimmer, bringing audiences to the edge of their seats even if they know the outcome. The film starts at the suspenseful build up to the fateful German Grand Prix with an establishing voiceover from Lauda then jumps back six years to tell the story from the beginning, which is a rare misstep plot-wise, making it a rather long six years to wait to get back to where you want to be. Aside from this diversion, the structure remains traditionally chronological. From there, we get the 007-esque introduction of Hunt, James Hunt as he smugly seduces us with his charm, enjoying women, cigars and champagne in excess. His character arc, fun as it is to watch, is much less interesting than that of Niki Lauda who we see disregarding his family history for a career in motor sport. The scenes they share are very strong, the script excelling with believable fighting talk passed between the two, trading verbal blows, helping to create a compelling screen chemistry early on which continues to soar until the final moments.
When the narrative, which by all accounts is said to be incredibly accurate, finally returns to Nurburgring, the stage is set for a rainy encounter. Lauda, who calculates risk by the percentage, thinks the wet surface is unsafe and dangerous to drive on. A vote takes place to see whether or not the race will go ahead and Hunt’s popularity sways the decision in his favour leading to a horrific incident which propels the film forward taking an interesting turn. Hospital scenes following the crash are magnificently done, the medical staff surrounding the damaged frame in the bed reminiscent of a team of engineers repairing a car, dehumanising the driver in what could be seen as an extended pit stop in the season. This creative approach of comparing man to machine, emphasises the mechanical methods of being the best and stopping at nothing, not even a near death experience, to achieve greatness.
The performances of Hemsworth and Bruhl are colossal, highlighted by use of archive footage of Hunt and Lauda, showing the uncanny likeness between the drivers and the fictional counterparts. Hemsworth seems confident in the role of the cocky womaniser, and what initially comes across as arrogance quickly becomes likeable as the back-story and his relationship with Lauda develops, though I am unsure why Olivia Wilde was needed for the part of his wife Suzy Miller. The character was underused, presented as a glamour piece with no real acting required. Alexandra Maria Lara has a lot more to do as Lauda’s other half Marlene Knaus and their blooming romance is genuinely touching. Bruhl, for me impresses the most as Lauda, his accent and mannerisms are spot on, and he really makes you root for his character who on the surface has a lot less appeal than the charismatic Hunt.
‘Rush’ avoids the Hollywood standard, refusing to categorise a hero and villain, but giving us two very real endearing characters who each have flaws but possess tough competitive qualities and have a visibly mutual respect for one another. This is certainly not just one for the Formula One fans, but is a very human story about two extraordinary individuals that is impossible not be completely drawn in by. An exhilarating thrill ride that can appeal to anyone that has ever wanted to win, and this film wins by a margin, taking its victory lap in style.