Ron Howard’s Rush draw you in faster than one of its finely tuned Formula One racecars. The movie’s ability to keep you on tenterhooks in spite of its arguably niché subject matter is admirable to say the least. However, in terms of captivating real-life dramas, Howard and his cast couldn’t be working with a juicier tale. This is a dark re-imagining of the classic rabbit and hare parable made all the more tense by its reality-based stakes. With glory or failure and life or death hanging in the balance, this fast paced duel-biopic is enough to get even the most flat tyred racing fan revved up.
Howard centers his story on the real life rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, two fiercely competitive racers whose determination to be the best during the 1970s pushed their safety to the limit. On the track these drivers were near-equals but when their keys left the ignition they couldn’t have been more different. Seemingly in the lead was Hunt, a pompous playboy with deep pockets and a steady string of women at his disposal. Constantly on his tail was Lauda, Hunt’s verbal punching bag and an underdog who had worked his way up the ranks against all the odds. Meanwhile, the sobering mortality rate and raw danger of their chosen profession was never far behind either of them and with their level-headed tactics clouded by reckless pride, it was only a matter of time before it caught up.
Those put off by their lack of knowledge (or interest in) Formula One or its history shouldn’t ignore Rush. Like any big screen sports epic the activity itself acts only as a catalyst for nail-biting drama, leaving the meat of the story to the goings-on outside the arena. The real champions here are Howard’s enthralling storytelling skills and the incredibly convincing turns from his two leads, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. Most of us know Hemsworth as chiseled God of Thunder Thor, making him an ideal choice to play an infallible racing hero who makes success look as effortless as popping a champagne cork. It’s Brühl who steals the show here as Lauda, a put upon stickler for the rules who’s driven to danger by his reckless rivalry with Hunt.
Well aware that he lacks the charisma or warmth of his enemy, Lauda lays claim to his dry, cold persona and owns it. After being told he resembles a rat for the ump-teenth time by a rather crass Hunt, Lauda’s retort simply serves to remind his reval that while unattractive, rats are clever creatures. It’s this brave faced determination and underdog mentality crafted by Brühl that leaves you rooting for Lauda both in and out of the driver’s seat. The Academy may have zoomed past both Ron Howard’s direction and Daniel Brühl’s performance this year but you’d be doing yourself a grave disservice if you were to pass Rush by.