Whenever the name Ron Howard is mentioned, two things usually come up: Richie Cunningham and Apollo 13. Something that may not be mentioned in the same sentence is Formula One Racing. Opening in wide release after receiving critic’s praise is Rush, based on the real life rivalry between racers James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Bruhl) that nearly ended in horrific tragedy before the finish line.
Although the film is based on reality, F1 fans will enjoy both the race scenes and the legendary rivalry played out on the screen. This is a film that can be enjoyed by all. Howard once again achieves the same insight and realism of man’s will and determination that he captured in Apollo 13 in this story about two men, born to be champions, who met on the race track.
From the looks of Rush‘s advertising campaign, they’re putting all their eggs into Chris Hemsworth’s basket. That may seem like a gamble considering to larger audiences he’s only known as Thor, but for anyone who remembers his brief performance in the beginning of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, his role in Snow White and the Huntsman, or even Cabin in the Woods, you all know that Hemsworth is a mountain of budding talent.
Teamed with the skill and experience of Ron Howard, and acting against the brilliant up and coming European actor Daniel Bruhl, everyone is on top of their game. Hemsworth plays the wild and reckless James Hunt, a man with so much raw talent that it propels him to the front of the pack and repeatedly puts him first across the finish line. His rival Lauda, played by Bruhl, is the exact opposite of Hunt, a well tuned machine of a man whose only focus is precision and excellence. The two champions meet early in the film and immediately develop a hatred for each other. It’s this rivalry that drives them to their absolute best, crawling from Formula 3 and obscurity to the two biggest names in professional Formula 1 racing in 1976.
The movie is less about racing and more about two men whose sheer will and drive make them the best there is. Throughout the ’76 season, Hunt struggles with excess partying, and with his obligations as a racer and a husband. Olivia Wilde briefly comes in as Hunt’s short term super-model wife Suzy Miller, whose affair with Richard Burton sends Hunt into a whirl of fast drugs and easy women. Lauda balances in contrast as a socially inept man who has more pistons in his engine than friends. His life is wholly devouted to racing until he meets socialite Marlene Knaus (Maria Lara). Together they build a strong and supportive relationship that’s put to the test when Lauda suffers a near fatal accident at the German Grand Prix.
Against Lauda’s recommendation, and supported by Hunt’s rally call, the big race on the wet roads of one of the most dangerous courses in the world put Lauda into a firey collision that burns much of his face and fills his lungs with toxic fumes. Burdened by guilt but determined to win, Hunt takes advantage of Lauda’s absence and climbs the rankings. Bruhl’s performance through a difficult rehab shines as he forces himself back into the race.
Ron Howard’s framing and command of the mood and pace of the movie create a compelling tale of two men who are given equal time on screen and story. At the same time, each race scene is thrilling and exciting without resorting to over the top stunts a la The Fast and the Furious franchise. Instead, viewers are put into the cockpit of a rocket desperately wanting to defy gravity, and the only thing pulling it back down to earth is the driver.