The rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt captured the attention of the Formula 1 racing world in 1976, but it started years earlier — and was more than just a clash of personalities. The rivalry drove both men to excel and perhaps take too many chances, and to reflect each other’s weaknesses in their strengths. Only in disaster did both appreciate the other, but what price greatness? And what does greatness mean?
At first, Rush seems to be the story of legendary driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl, Inglorious Basterds), who returned from a near-fatal crash and horrible burns just 42 days later to continue racing in 1976. Instead, it turns out to be more the story of his nemesis and eventual comrade, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, Thor, Cabin in the Woods), whose racing career would end less than three seasons later but who later had a second career as a BBC commentator.
Ron Howard, who is used to telling stories of daring young men and their magnificent machines in films like Apollo 13, gives us plenty of action but more of a focus on the contrasts between the two competitors at the peak of their rivalry. Lauda and Hunt approach life and racing in very different ways, but the film tends to focus much more on Hunt’s lifestyle. In the beginning, Hunt’s wild living looks more like joie de vivre, but as he struggles in his personal life, it begins to look more like dissolution and despair. Lauda’s personal life gets a little less attention, perhaps because Lauda has more discipline.
** Small spoilers **
While Rush ends up delivering a harsher judgment on Hunt, it at least challenges both men’s approach to life, as Lauda seems to reject happiness as a curse while Hunt seems focused on nothing else. In a scene near the end, Hunt tries to get Lauda to embrace the fun of racing by exclaiming, “We’re like knights!” They certainly jousted through their parallel careers, but it’s the discipline of Lauda that allows him not only to return just six weeks after nearly dying in the crash, but also to win two more world championships — his final crown coming five years after Hunt last competed in a race. Still, the two brought out the best and sometimes the worst in each other, and both men realize it by the end of the film.
Rush is a well-paced, well-acted film that avoids some cliches and overcomes a few others to give audiences a thought-provoking as well as pulse-provoking film. Howard uses plenty of visual tricks in the action sequences to give us a sense of the adrenalin rush, as well as the confusion and danger, but plays the rest of the sequences more straightforwardly, rather than use Shaky Cam throughout the film. Brühl and Hemsworth carry the fim, with Alexandra Maria Lara (Youth Without Youth) providing more emotional resonance to Lauda’s personal life, at times more than Lauda wants to experience.
Rush may not win major awards, but it’s an excellent film, and surprisingly poignant and even wistful. On the 5-point Hot Air scale, Rush gets a 5:
- 5 – Full price ticket
- 4 – Matinee only
- 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
- 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
- 1 – Avoid at all costs
One note: I saw the film in a D-Box seat, which provides motion that is synchronized with the action sequences in the film. It’s the first time I’ve tried it, and it does help immerse you in the action, a bit like virtual roller coaster rides. I don’t know that it was worth the extra cost, but it was fun to try it once.
Rush is rated R for nudity and sexual content (a few brief sequences), language, brief drug use, and “some disturbing images.” The injury and hospital scenes with Lauda are gruesome, although relatively brief. They are necessary for telling Lauda’s story, but Howard doesn’t dwell on them long.