Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara
Running time: 123mins
The lowdown: Ron Howard shifts into high gear for a riveting retelling of James Hunt and Niki Lauda’s fierce rivalry on and off the 1970s Formula 1 track. Boasting pole position performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl as Hunt and Lauda, two very different men with different approaches to racing, it stands as a strong contender for Howard’s best work to date. A great movie even for those not interested in F1 (or perhaps especially so), the race for Oscar starts here.
The full verdict: When not supervising one of the greatest sitcoms ever made (Arrested Development) or making more money than God with anonymous blockbusters (The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons), Ron Howard has quietly carved a niche as go-to-guy for “reel life” movies.
Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind (to a lesser extent) – if you want classy, grown-up, mainstream retellings of actual events, Howard’s your man.
Rush is closest to the director’s Frost/Nixon, another 1970s story about two men of different nationalities, one a bon viveur, the other dourly serious-minded, locked in a battle of psychological brinkmanship to see who would be crowned victor.
Only difference is, here Hunt and Lauda are strapped into the junior equivalent of the rockets that took the Apollo 13 crew on their ill-fated trip to the moon.
One of Howard and screenwriter Peter (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) Morgan’s triumphs is in making us care about these egotistical playboys who get their thrills driving in circles burning up the world’s most precious resource.
Parallels are drawn between Hunt and Lauda, the same privileged background, families dismissive of motor racing, the will to succeed.
But, Rush is more interested in the differences – the Englishman’s instinctive talent and rock n’ roll persona contrasted sharply against the German’s ruthlessly analytical approach and cold reserve that wins him few friends and has him dubbed “the Rat” due to his pointed features.
With flawless accent and effortless charm, the Australian Hemsworth is perfect as Hunt, making it apparent why the driver was never short of female company. This includes wife Suzy Miller, played with Chelsea set perfection (and another remarkable accent) by Olivia Wilde.
But, Bruhl is the one likely to get the award nominations. Making the driver sympathetic if not likeable, the actor’s Lauda is fascinating, whether explaining the statistics of risk, unromantically proposing marriage to his girlfriend (Lara) or overcoming life-threatening odds following a terrifying racetrack immolation on the infamous Nurburgring circuit.
This moment, and the horrific treatment Lauda endures (including lung-vacuuming) ram home the danger these men embraced in an era before stringent safety regulations.
Howard teases the audience with a brief opening race, the engines’ roars hammering the gut and the sense of speed racing the heart. As much as in the Oscar-winning Senna, Rush captures the exhilaration that fuels these racers’ death drive, largely dismissing CGI for the real deal. The result is breathtaking, but you will vow never to break the speed limit again.
Background details will please F1 historians; the upper classes’ entrance into the sport ushering the champagne and oysters era, the climactic race in Japan going ahead despite treacherous conditions because lucrative TV rights were in jeopardy.
All shot with an eye for immersive period detail by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and scored with trademark emotional impact by Hans Zimmer, Rush more than lives up to its title.