Rush is the latest attempt to portray the action and drama of racing on film, and a quick review of previous efforts shows just how tricky this can be to pull off. Overflowing as it is with drama, mortal danger and deadly rivalries between colourful characters, the sport would seem to be a goldmine of material for Hollywood to draw on, yet every major motorsport film to date – from Grand Prix to Le Mans to Days Of Thunder – has fallen short of the mark in some way.
But director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) and writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) have pulled it off with Rush. For motor-racing fans, it's a thrilling and evocative portrait of the seventies – one of F1's most popular eras, when sponsorship money and TV deals were beginning to raise the profile and professionalism of the sport, but some of the gung-ho spirit of earlier years still lingered. And for general movie-goers, it's a compelling study of two equally admirable yet totally contrasting characters – James Hunt and Niki Lauda – whose differing approaches to racing mirrored that tension between financial gain and simply having fun.
Hunt is the old-fashioned party animal, of course. Hemsworth (better known as superhero Thor to most viewers) slips comfortably into the 1976 champion's charming, carefree and loveably rogueish persona, delivering some amusingly cheeky one-liners in the process. But his characterisation ends up feeling a little shallow next to Daniel Bruhl's mesmerising performance as the obsessive, driven and frequently humourless Lauda – a man whose single-minded determination and attention to detail would become the model for success in F1 in the decades that followed.
In fact, Bruhl's uncanny portrayal of 'The Rat' is easily the best thing about this film – particularly the excruciating scenes of Lauda's recovery from horrific burns sustained in his infamous crash at the Nurburgring. Indeed, the final showdown at Fuji comes almost as an anticlimax once you've witnessed the gut-wrenching fight to overcome injury that forms the dramatic heart of this movie.
Of course, there are plenty of exciting and well shot racing sequences – complete with the ear-splitting soundtrack of competition engines every aficionado lives for – but not so many that non-F1 fans will be turned off. Purists will be more disappointed by a handful of overly simplified and somewhat inaccurate moments, particularly early in the film, where the makers have had to take some obvious shortcuts in order to establish the protagonists' key traits for the more general viewer.
These shortcomings are quickly forgotten once Rush gets into its stride, however. Efficient pacing, gripping action and fine performances all round keep it motoring along nicely until the reflective and touching final scenes. While fast cars and spectacular crashes might attract fans to motor racing in the first place, what keeps them interested in the long run are the fascinating human characters at the centre of the sport. By placing two of the most fascinating characters front and centre, Rush more than does justice to its subject matter.
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