“Rush,” the new Ron Howard film about the rivalry of real-life Formula One racers, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), provides insight on the “rebels, lunatics and dreamers,” who strap themselves into “a coffin, filled with high octane fuel” and drive 120 miles per hour.
When we first meet Lauda and Hunt they are third stringers, talented Formula 3 drivers desperate for a chance to move up to the big show. Lauda makes a financial deal that lands him on Team Ferrari while Hunt uses tenacity, charm and a touch of desperation to grab a spot with the McLaren team.
Bad blood flows between the two, stemming back to an incident when Hunt edged Lauda off the track the first time they faced off against one another. That rivalry spills over from the track as the two engage in name-calling and spar in the press.
In the 1976 season Lauda seems unstoppable, a sure bet to reclaim his World Champion title. Then tragedy strikes as Lauda is badly burned in a fiery crash. During his recuperation Hunt rises in the ranks, leading to a showdown, just 50 days after Lauda’s accident, for the World Championship at the Japan Grand Prix.
In some ways “Rush” is a paint-by-numbers story—Formulaic 1, maybe?—of opposites.
Lauda is methodical, reserved, clinical, egotistical, a man who races not for passion, but as an exercise in control and discipline. “If I had more talent,” he says, “and could earn more money at something else, I would.”
Hunt, on the other hand, is a wild card driven by passion and aggression; a flamboyant but troubled man who wore racing overalls embroidered with Sex: The Breakfast of Champions.
The pair face off in predictable ways—the kind of thing we’ve seen in other sports films—but the film really takes off in its second half when the characters show some growth and the racing scenes take center stage.
Howard takes us inside the cars—literally. Close-ups of revving engines and point of view shots form the driver’s visors make the race scenes a you-are-there feel, placing the viewer in the cockpit. They are exciting, visceral and as close as I’ll ever get to rounding a hairpin curve at super sonic speeds.
Hemsworth hammers it home, proving there is more to him than playing superhero Thor in “The Avengers” movies but it is Brühl who shows the most range.
It would have been easy to play Lauda as a one-note egotist, but as his character finds his passion after the horrific accident, Brühl adds complexity, bringing him to life as a fully rounded man.
“Rush” is more than “Rocky” on four wheels, it’s an exhilarating, stylish film with pedal-to-the-metal verve.