James Hunt is a chauvinistic playboy who indulges in alcohol and sex as if they owe him a living. He’s got the great Chris Hemsworth look that guarantees sex with any girl he lays his eyes on, or who lays her eyes on him. All he has to do is wink and there’ll be an orgasm. What’s good about him though is that he is a magnificent race car driver. One of the best.
Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is a chauvinistic know-it-all who spends his days alone or with car parts, studying them and analysing their potential. When he meets his future wife, he tells her, “God gave me an okay mind but a really good ass that can feel everything in a car”. Indeed, he’s able to pinpoint all her car’s faulty bits, from bald brake pads to a flat front tyre. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “fun”. To him, life is all about the race. And the race is all about winning. What’s good about him though is that he is also a magnificent race car driver. One of the best.
Rush, the latest effort from Happy Days cutiepie Ron Howard, brings these two social rejects of the racetrack together in a “based on a true story” account of their 1976 rivalry to win the Formula One world championship. The movie is filled with adrenaline, CGI rain and overcast clouds, and it treats its two racing legends as thinking human beings and not as a couple of air-headed speed demons out to tear apart the circuit.
It begins with Hunt and Lauda as naive teens in 1970, testing their skill at Formula Three. They catch each other’s eye. Hunt wants to beat Lauda; Lauda wants to beat Hunt. The rivalry that sparks between them requires no explanation. It is there because it needs to be. Their characters tell the story for us. How could two such gargantuan show-offs not be expected to have feelings of immense ill and hatred towards each other? But where Rush is superior to other biographical sports dramas is in Peter Morgan’s deft ability to slowly turn hatred to admiration, admiration to jealousy, jealousy to respect. By the end of the movie, everyone has reached a satisfying place.
What’s also deft about Morgan’s screenplay is the ease with which it balances the importance of both Hunt and Lauda. It’s hard to tell whose POV it is. I’m sure it must be Lauda’s, because history informs us that the real James Hunt died at 45. Even so, Hunt is given weight as a character. He is not someone for Lauda to bounce off of. Lauda himself admits to Hunt being the main driving force behind his speedy recovery (no pun intended).
During one of the races of the 1976 season, Lauda crashes his car and the fuel tank catches fire, sending the entire vehicle up in flames and smoke. He suffers serious burns and inhales a gallon of toxic fumes. What follows in the hospital is a series of gruelling scenes that traces his journey to recovery. I’m not sure how it’s done now, but Rush suggests that back in the ’70s poison in the lungs had to be vacuumed out via a long steel rod inserted rather crudely down the patient’s throat (oesophagus or larynx, I’m not sure). From what I can see it looks to be a very painful procedure. As Lauda undergoes it, he watches Hunt on TV snatch win after win right out from under him. He grabs the doctor and begs him to “do it again”.
Before long, Lauda is back in his car and winning races. His face is all battered up now, having needed skin grafts to patch up his dead forehead. Hunt takes pity on him. Lauda takes pity on himself. The entire season and the entire championship come down to one point. Even though this is history, I will not spoil the end for all the non-F1 readers. You can delight in knowing that Morgan’s screenplay does its content justice by not siding with either man. So no matter which way I spin this review, if you are unfamiliar with Formula One history, you will not know who comes out on top.
Besides Hemsworth and Brühl, there are a few supporting characters who make obligatory appearances as lovers, friends, and colleagues. Most prominent of whom are Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s first wife Suzy — who later falls into a relationship with actor Richard Burton — and Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene, Lauda’s faithful wife. They play their important parts well, and they provide the racers with pithy lines of encouragement. Once the lights go out and the race begins though, everyone is silent. All that can be heard is the roar of the engines, the shifting of gears, and the commentary from reporters who are fully aware that they are in a movie and not at an actual race. If Rush had been just about the race, I’d have shifted my gears to Senna instead.
Best Moment | Lauda’s crash. Caught me by surprise, and it’s very well done. Quite unnerving.
Worst Moment | The air stewardess walking like a professional model down the airplane aisle. Since when?