The challenge for a sports movie is to keep those who fundamentally dislike that sport glued to the screen. As a non-fan of motor-racing I can say that Ron Howard’s latest film, motor racing drama Rush, does just that. The film dramatises the fierce and often vicious rivalry between the titans of 1970’s formula one motor-racing, James Hunt and Niki Lauda as they compete for the 1976 drivers’ championship.
Hunt and Lauda were God’s gift to script writers with Englishman Hunt the gregarious blonde Adonis party-boy and Austrian Lauda the obsessive, tactless, anti-social perfectionist whose physical appearance Hunt disparaged as being rat-like. Despite the two drivers’ glaring personal differences, director Ron Howard doesn’t attempt to paint them as good and evil polar opposites. Howard shows that both have noble and reprehensible characteristics: Lauda rudely critiques everyone he meets as if he is incapable of empathy yet he admirably adheres to a rigorous moral code on the track. By contrast, Hunt is depicted as eminently likeable but a person whose partying ways torpedoed his relationships with others, particularly the many women who filed through his life.
There’s nothing revolutionary in the script here as the film fits the two lead characters’ life stories and personalities into a familiar sports film template; they not only battle each other on the track but also personal tragedy in their desperate pursuit of glory. Howard manages, however, to whip up an intoxicating mix of high octane action, personal drama and 1970’s nostalgia. Slightly grainy, treated film recreates the appearance of 1970’s movies and the action is propelled by terrific songs from the era featuring bands like Slade and Thin Lizzy.
Chris Hemsworth, who seemed to be heading for action-hunk type-casting, exceeds all expectations here as he gives Hunt a mix of Bond-like confidence, wit and loush sophistication but also insecurity that sees him vomit with nerves before every race. As Lauda, German actor Daniel Bruhl is terrific portraying a man whose relentless determination to not only succeed as a driver but to silence his detractors (including his Father) alienated him from those closest to him. As Hunt’s main love interest, model Suzy Miller, Olivia Wilde offers fine support and adds to the sense of Carnaby Street glamour orbiting Hunt but like just every other woman in this film, she isn’t given the substantial role we would have liked.
While the film revels in the glamorous side of Formula One and Hunt’s reputation as a partying, womanising rock star of the sport, it doesn’t ignore the dangers of motor racing and the potential for horrible injuries and even death. Just as important to the film as the result of drivers’ championship is the horrendous fiery crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix which left Niki Lauda badly disfigured.
While Howard occasionally indulges sports film clichés with Rush, he still succeeds in creating a riveting personal drama, a fascinating character study and a thrilling spectacle.
Nick’s rating: Four stars.
Director(s): Ron Howard.
Release date: 3rd Oct 2013
Running time: 123 mins.
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