A bit of a drag – ★★½
Ron Howard’s latest film takes on the story of a Formula 1 rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) which came to a head in the final race of the 1976 season. The two were fierce rivals and couldn’t have been any different in character or reputation with Hunt the hero of British racing with a love of risky driving, parties, booze and drugs and Lauda the pragmatic, clean-living (read: “square”) Austrian.
Rush attempts to balances the soap opera storylines of their private lives with their on-track activities. It’s a difficult thing to get right when writing a sports-focused movie and Peter Morgan’s script suffers major problems with the Hunt/Lauda rivalry. For a start neither character is particularly likeable. While we’re meant to warm to Hunt’s laddish charms, he’s really a deplorable, almost insufferable human being, a feeling that isn’t aided by Thor’s wooden, charmless performance. Brühl has delighted audiences in the past with star-making turns in Good Bye, Lenin! and The Edukators, but here you’re not sure if you’re meant to hate him or empathise with how he was ostracised by his fellow drivers for his nationality and appearance. He’s certainly the more interesting character in the piece with hints of something like Asperger’s Syndrome coming across and revealing a man who charmlessly helped to revolutionise a dangerous, elitist profession. A straight biopic on him would have been preferable, but much less marketable without the Pantene locks of Kim from Home and Away to put on the posters.
Of the supporting cast of characters, the eye candy token wives in the shape of Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara (Control, The Baader Meinhof Complex) are given very little to do other than look pretty and/or worried at various points in the film. It’s great to see Christian McKay from the under-seen Me and Orson Welles in there as a wealthy team owner and Natalie Dormer from HBO’s Game of Thrones is always nice to look at too.
So far, so bad, but it’s relief to say Rush is redeemed as a cinema experience by its tremendous production design, period detail and cinematography. Howard has always been fantastically gifted at dropping an audience into a time and place – consider Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and of course Frost/Nixon - and he continues the trick here. The race scenes are thrillingly shot and really do make the viewer feel like they’re present in the Nürburgring or Brand’s Hatch in the mid 1970s. There is a small amount of CGI used, but nothing intrusive which leaves you able to enjoy the races backed by ridiculously loud engine sounds and Hans Zimmer’s score.
The film also picks up after a dramatic twist midway through which is handled brilliantly and if you know the life story of Lauda then chances are you’ll know what’s going to happen but it plays out really well for someone unfamiliar with his life and times. This element of the film leaves you thinking Morgan’s script could have been so much better if it had just been more focused, but sadly it reverts back to broad sentimentality by the end of the film.
Every review has said it, but if you’re looking for the authentic Formula 1 film experience then go and seek out the documentary Senna. If you’ve already seen it, go watch it again. The rivalry between its titular star and Alain Proust pisses all over the fairly drab drama played out by Thor and Brühl here.
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