Formula One motor racing has evolved greatly over the last 40 years: Faster vehicles, more complex technologies, more safety measures, and more money. However, while the quality of these factors has improved, there is a feeling that something more important has been lost in the modern era. Something that fuelled the passion and excitement of sport in its golden era: Personality. Rush is a film about two of the most distinctive personalities to ever put their bodies on the line in an F1 car: The flamboyant, reckless but gifted English playboy James Hunt; and the original focused super professional, Austrian talent Nikki Lauda. Fitting for such legendary personalities, Ron Howard’s Rush is a film with tremendous personality, style and electric energy, that makes it a must watch experience.

Following the rise of both men in the world of motor racing, and their contrasting private lives, leading up to the titanic 1976 season that would see these intense rivals clash for the ultimate glory of the Formula One championship, Rush is dominated by the figures of Lauda and Hunt. This is a rivalry at full throttle, one that is ignited early and burns slowly until the fuse sparks off and the real fireworks fly as they go head to head. Screenwriter Peter Morgan, and director Ron Howard, frame this clash as much more than a mere sporting rivalry. Rather this is something straight out of classical epic mythology; two champions battling head to head, fuelled by desire and hatred, each the extreme of the other…and yet through their bitter rivalry, they are forged by their passion, and the opposites are revealed to be strange reflections of the other. Such an astonishing and dramatic narrative gives Rush a sense of gravitas and complexity that lifts it above other ‘sports’ films, and into a grand modern epic.

As such, the success of the film would always depend on the strength of the actors playing these epic, flawed heroes… and both men deliver career best performances. In the role of the legendary playboy racer James Hunt, Chris Hemsworth at once channels certain aspects of his most famous role, Marvel superhero Thor (the physical presence, the touch of humour), and is able to shed the burden of that role, to reveal the breadth of his acting talents, moving between light and dark to juggle both sides of James Hunt: at once a happy go lucky social force, light and frivolous; and a tortured soul, who lived his life on the edge at all times, drinking and womanising into oblivion…the dark side of the ‘fun.’ To embody such a fractured personality is a daunting task, and Hemsworth channels this by playing Hunt as an individual of pure heart, driven by emotion both positive and negative, to create a faithful interpretation of the kind of thrilling, natural superstar that no longer can exist in the modern, multi-million dollar world of sport.

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However, Daniel Bruhl is the star of this show. His performance as Lauda is mesmeric in its accuracy and subtly, as a man who has shunned others and their ‘trivial’ friendships in his quest for racing perfection; in the process, becoming the antithesis of the free spirited unorthodox Hunt. Bruhl is able to convey the bullish and uncompromising drive of Lauda, but more impressively, each defiant act and clash with Hunt, whether in victory or defeat, is haunted with an echo of isolation and loneliness. This is a man of intense contrast, and overwhelming desire. As the film progresses, Bruhl reveals more of the complex interior of the man from out behind his armour like exterior, as Lauda turns from an obtuse quasi-villainous presence, in contrast to the thrilling Hunt, into a deeply sympathetic figure who is perhaps more heroic than the flawed Hunt. It is a gigantic performance that should establish Bruhl as an acting force to watch carefully, and strengthens the film’s already high pedigree. Indeed, Morgan as a writer, Howard as a director, and Hemsworth and Bruhl as performers deserve high praise and recognition for bringing to live such magnetic and compelling characters that blur the line between the real and the fictional to create an iconic interpretation of the two men, cast in the tradition of myth and epic tragedy.

Visually, the film is astonishing accurate in it’s depiction of the textures and atmosphere of the 1970s, without feeling like corny nostalgia of the past. It is at once vivid, and yet strangely drawn out, revealing the grit behind the glamour of the sport, and the cultural realities of an age of great social contrast. Most impressively of all, Howard is able to capture and present the most exciting fictional depiction of Formula One racing ever committed to film, that will have both those who have never seen an F1 race, and die hard fans, drawn to the edge of their seat at the thrill of the races, and the detail poured into every image, from the reality and physicality of the pre-race preparation, to the flash of colour as cars ghost past each other in a relentless expression of the madness and beauty of the sport.

Key to the success of these exhilarating sequences is Howard’s ability to embrace a more excessive, almost cartoonish sensibility. The cars move with a dizzying sense of dynamism; the sound of engines roar with a deafening thunder, the screeching of rubber against tarmac punctures the film with the vicious pitch of a scream, and the vivid colours blur into beautiful abstraction turning the machines into living instinctive art, as the racers push the cars to their limit. This extreme style and visual viscosity leaves the audience breathless with excitement and tension, reinforced by the strength of the dramatic narrative established. Howard uses the juxtaposition of these hyper real, kinetic races with the details and verisimilitude of the 1970s aesthetic, to create both a world that is truly alive, and reflect the emotional and psychological experience of the characters, reinforcing the personal intensity of the film.

Rush is a magnificent achievement. Howard is able to take the true story of James Hunt vs. Nikki Lauda in the golden era of 1970s Formula One, and create a drama as rich dramatically as Shakespeare, and as sleek and powerful as the F1 cars on display. It is a game of power and control, delicacy and emotion, one that beautifully reflects the relationship between the two rivals, each unique and brilliant in their own right, and the battle between man and machine on the track. Rush excels as a near mythic drama, drawn in bold, dynamic strokes, that is fuelled on both adrenaline and a tender honesty.

VERDICT: [rating=5]

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk