Josh: I’m much better at video hockey.
Paul: That’s not a sport.
Josh: It requires hand and eye coordination.
Paul: It’s not a sport if you don’t sweat.
Josh: What about golf? It’s a sport and you don’t sweat.
Paul: It’s not a sport if you let a machine do all the work.
Josh: What about car racing?
Paul: Shut up, Baskin.
Taken from ‘Big’ (1988)
There’s always been something different with Formula 1. Those fascinated by the outrageous speeds and driving skills can struggle to explain that it’s more than just a group of indulged playboys showing off their fast toys. Or, that there is more to it than the guy with the strongest car and best engineers always finishing first. With ‘Rush’, the story of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Nikki Lauda’s (Daniel Brühl) fight for the 1976 championship, a lot of the beauty and ugliness of Formula 1 is explained to the non-believer. And what an adrenalin rush and insightful film it is.
Director Ron Howard and scriptwriter Peter Morgan team up again after their successful collaboration in ‘Frost/Nixon’ to tell the story of two competitive opposites. James Hunt, the good-looking, charismatic English playboy always surrounded by women, drink and envious followers, and the methodical, controlled Nikki Lauda, who struggles to gain acceptance by his rivals.
We first meet them in a F3 race. The confident, swaggering Hunt is intrigued by the quiet composure of the Austrian Lauda and the two soon battle on the track, far ahead of the opposition. With an intense collision towards the end of the race, both are spun around, but Hunt is able to finish first, and later wins the tournament. It’s clear this is a rivalry that will be fought in and out of the car, especially as the relentless Lauda will stop at nothing to get to the top.
With their attitude equally daring on the track, both soon obtain their ambitions of racing at the highest level at F1, and the rivalry takes on a different dimension. Lauda cruises to the title, with Hunt far behind and struggling in an unreliable car. Hunt, fearing he will miss his chance, and believing a more settled life will help him win the F1 title, marries the model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). And with Hunt now able to race in a formidable car, McLaren against Ferrari, the rivals are on equal footing with the 1976 championship. And so follows tragedies and triumphs, as the momentum swings between both drivers. The closer they get to the trophy, the more the stakes rise as both have to ask themselves how much they are willing to sacrifice to win that title.
There aren’t too many great sporting films about two rivals, and even less in the sphere of motor racing. What ‘Rush’ does is to show just how amazing a sports film is when everything comes together. While the brilliant documentary ‘Senna’ captured the fearless intensity of two of the game’s greats and their longstanding rivalry on the track, ‘Rush’ captures it as a spectacle too. Even those going into the film knowing who did win the championship that year, will still be on the edge of their seats. Though not a big fan of the sport before choosing to do the film, Howard has understood just what is so electric about driving at the highest level. We can picture being in the car for all the glory and fear it entails. The racing scenes are shot with flair and excitement and we really get a sense of how their lives in the car impact their viewpoint outside of it.
But this is a film far more than about a fascinating rivalry and a great director. Hemsworth and Brühl are riveting, and their magnetic auras catch alight, especially when they are in heated scenes together. Peter Morgan’s script takes a few liberties as you would expect (such as what happened in the team meeting and with the complainer of the car) but it adds to the drama and the dialogue is exceptional. You really sense how these two can look at the same issue with a different mindset and at the same time be both enemies and friends. When the 1976 season is over and both are talking to each other, it’s a wonderful scene that showcases the film perfectly. Away from distractions and away from everyone else, there was respect and almost desperation for the other to live life like they did themselves. What ‘Rush’ really answers, is why that could never have happened, and why that season was the perfect culmination of it.