Asif Kapadia’s ‘Senna’ was undoubtedly the finest Formula 1 film to have ever hit the big screen. Now, ‘Apollo 13’ and ‘A Beautiful Mind’ director Ron Howard has thrown his hat into this sparse ring by tackling one of the hottest rivalries in sporting history – that of British Formula 1 playboy James Hunt and eficianado Austrian Niki Lauda, which peaked during the 1976 season. Howard has re-united with ‘Frost/Nixon’ writer Peter Morgan to create ‘Rush’, with Thor’s Chris Hemsworth playing Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Lauda. Aside from Bruhl’s profoundly believable performance, perhaps the winning feature of this film is the cinematography, from Lars Von Trier and Danny Boyle favourite Anthony Dod Mantle. His left field perspectives, intricately spliced with archive footage creates a film so exciting that you’re likely to forget you’re watching a film in 2013, instead feeling like you’re sat on your sofa at home watching the Grand Pix in the 70s.
The storyline kicks off at the time where Lauda and Hunt are both lowly Formula 3 drivers. We then sit back and watch as the pair separately negotiate the ups and downs of life as a professional driver, as well as the relationships with people around them. As history has told us, both drivers were enormously talented, but approach the sport in wildly different ways. Hunt spends less than zero time preparing for his races, instead skidding sideways into his car last minute, still drunk and high from the night before, while Lauda arrives at the race location well before sunrise to walk the track and obsessively calculate how to tackle every inch of the race to come. The point at which we see the tragic Lauda crash – and we’re shown this in archive footage – is where the film cranks up the gear (excuse the pun). What has been relatively easy watching up until this point – and arguably at some times a little slow given this is a film about F1 – then heaves you into a world of broken dreams, desperation and lung vacuuming.
Up until this pivotal moment, it’s likely your favour will lie with Hunt. Some critics have even criticised Howard for siding with the British wild child. However, if at any point it’s time to turn your attention to the Austrian with the perculiar teeth, it’s now. Bruhl masterfully pushes upon us the realisation that Lauda is surely the character we must admire more – relentless and unfaltering determination pulls him back onto the track to make damn sure Hunt doesn’t take his title without a fight, despite half his face having fallen off and his lungs having been literally melted by the flames.
Hemsworth plays a great Hunt, but it feels superficial. Of course Hunt was an unapologetic cainer, but what would have been good to see from Howard and Hemswroth alike is some effort to look into why he was as he was. It’s made very clear that the rivalry between the two was cross-beneficial – neither would have been as successful without the other behaving just as they did – but we aren’t offered any insight into why Hunt just spent his time flailing through his career, overindulging in anything and everything that comes into his path. Lauda on the other hand we are given a real chance to get to know, and our relationship with him during the course of the film very noticeably shifts from one of annoyance to once of sheer admiration.
Rivalries from any genre or form are so often situations we should endeavour to borrow from emotionally, and this is no exception. Hunt and Lauda were and are legends, but were only so because of each other – without Lauda, Hunt would have probably spiralled into a pit of reckless doom, and without Hunt, Lauda would have taken too few risks and may have sacrificed his success. They were two halves of one great whole, which is what makes both the story and this film so interesting. Different people will no doubt feel different allegiances at different points during the film, all of which will be indicative of varying attitudes towards the topics of challenge and adversity.
Both characters were in real life and are here too, clearly ‘arsh-holes’, as Lauda puts it. But you’ll walk away loving them for very different reasons, with fire in your belly and no doubt a new found love for Formula 1. Now, what time is the Singapore Grand Pix on again?
4 out of 5.
No need to be an F1 fan, or even just a sports fan, to love this. Sporting rivalry at its absolute best.