By all accounts, the 1976 Formula One season was one for the ages, and if Rush is to be believed, probably the best one to ever occur. I know that it’s all dramatized and I’m sure stretches of the film never actually happened in real life, but because of the way it goes about telling the story of that particular season — and, more specifically, the two men fighting for the championship — it’s an incredibly compelling and thrilling experience.
The film’s plot really begins in 1970, when the two men at its center, James Hunt and Niki Lauda (Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl), were both Formula Three drivers. After their first race together, they begin to develop a rivalry that they continue for the next six years. The men are polar opposites — Hunt is a party animal and risk taker, while Lauda is a calculating misanthrope who wins via technical proficiency and skill, but not reckless behavior. Of course, this sets up a rivalry with clear sides. Brawn vs. brains, to boil it down to its essence. Perhaps these men weren’t quite so dissimilar in real life, but that’s how they’re portrayed here.
What Rush surprisingly does is not pick a side for you to root for. It’s a very down-the-middle film, and it gives both characters a great amount of time in the spotlight, but doesn’t portray them in any light other than what they are. Neither is bad, neither is particularly good — they just are. There’s no true villain, and if you find yourself cheering for both of them as it goes along, you won’t be alone. The rivalry is strong enough that we don’t need the film to decide who should win. It’s impartial.
In fact, even though it might be Chris Hemsworth’s face features most prominently on the posters and in the advertising, it’s Brühl’s character who gets the stronger characterization and more screen time, especially in the film’s final half. This might sound like it contradicts my last statement about Rush‘s impartiality, but it really doesn’t. Just because it spends more time with him and gives him more depth, it doesn’t promote him or demonize the character played by Hemsworth. It just can’t make the party boy as interesting.
I’ll admit straight off the bat that I’m not an F1 fan. Not NASCAR, either, I should point out. I just don’t enjoy watching cars race around a track for hours, especially because we don’t get the same type of drama and characterization that a movie like this brings to the fold. I mean, maybe the races would be more interesting if I knew the drivers, but that’s not the case. Regardless, Rush made the sport interesting, and not just because of its characters.
It’s because of the talent of the filmmakers. The director is Ron Howard, who has made far more good movies than bad, and he manages to make F1 racing exciting for anyone, even those without a vested interest in the sport. He understands how to get the adrenaline pumping, and while the racing moments are brief, they’re thrilling. There’s only really one lengthy race, and it’s right at the end, after we’ve been with these characters for nearly two hours. Because we’ve seen into their lives — and this is often not glamorous — that final race means something and it becomes even more engaging because of this.
In fact, the only area of Rush that doesn’t really work is the relationship that Hunt has with a woman named Suzy (Olivia Wilde). She shows up for just a few scenes, serves a singular purpose, and then more or less disappears, only appearing right at the end while watching the television during the final race. Conversely, Lauda’s relationship with Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) provides multiple functions and actually alters his character, instead of just emphasizing certain traits that we already understand.
A lot of the success comes from the casting. right before the credits, we get a bit of video and some pictures of the actual James Hunt and Niki Lauda, and I struggled to notice that they were the real ones and not the actors. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl look a substantial amount like their real-life counterparts, and they turn in strong performances here. There are great strengths and weaknesses to each of them, and the film allows them for portray both sides to each character.
It’s almost surprising to see that Rush was allowed to be released with an R rating. It deserves it, to be sure — there’s nudity, a bit of profanity, and a couple of injury scenes which will make the squeamish squirm — but it easily could have been made into a PG-13. The movie is for adults, though, and will likely not be enjoyed for anyone under the age of 16, so seeing the R rating is something to be applauded, both on the part of Howard, who aimed for an adult film, and the studio, who allowed him to do that.
Rush is a great sports movie about a couple of rivals attempting to best each other in the sport of Formula One racing. It has two good lead characters played wonderfully by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, and it makes F1 exciting, even if it could easily be dull. It’s engaging, adrenaline-pumping, and surprisingly impartial in its portrayal of the real-life story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda.