The summary of a six-year rivalry in Formula One is more entertaining than informative
Posted: October 2, 2013
Drinking and driving. James Hunt, played by Chris Hemsworth on the right, lives a fast life with liquor and race cars, but his opponent Niki Lauda is much more calculated.
James Hunt and Niki Lauda were almost polar opposites. Hunt was young, blond and British, a playboy that had women falling at his feet, which were often bare in public, and led a life of extravagant hedonism. Lauda had brown hair, was Austrian and got the nickname "rat" from Lauda because his buckteeth made him vaguely resemble a creature from the gutters. But they had one thing in common: They both wanted to win the 1976 Formula One season.
Rush is about the notorious rivalry between the two F1 drivers, with a particular focus on the defining moments of the 1976 season. The time and the events are faithfully recreated in recognizably '70s-style saturated tones all the way through, and the races themselves are covered from many different angles to get the adrenaline flowing.
Perhaps no race is better than the very first one: the first time Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, known best for playing the title role in Thor) and Lauda (Daniel Brühl) compete, during their early years at a Formula Three race. In a closeup shot, a few blades of grass on the side of the track are cut down by one racing car - perhaps its front wing, perhaps not; it all goes too quickly. But the rhythm of the editing, together with the magnificent and playful "Gimme Some Lovin' " on the soundtrack, which obviously has multiple meanings here, makes this one of the best scenes of the entire film.
The implication of that blade of grass getting slaughtered by the mechanical monsters racing over it is transparent, and even those who don't know the events of 1976 in the Formula One world should realize that someone will eventually get hurt.
Directed by Ron Howard
With Daniel Brühl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde
Hurt is almost inevitable when drivers race their coffins on wheels at breakneck speeds, many dozens of times around a track that has sharp turns, past some two dozen drivers who all want to reach or stay at the front of the pack. In that very first race between Hunt and Lauda, we see Hunt's recklessness and Lauda's rational calculation, but they both want to take first place with equal zeal.
Whether such zeal leads to the legendary rivalry that people still talk about is wholly debatable, at least if Rush is anything to go by. It is beyond apparent that Hunt would do anything he can to be crowned champion at the end of the year, and even though Lauda shares his goal, the Formula Three race already makes it clear that he will come second if there is any risk he feels uncomfortable with. "I accept every time I get in my car there's a 20 percent chance I could die," Lauda says, but he doesn't allow even 1 percent more risk, whereas Hunt throws caution to the wind.
Director Ron Howard dips in and out of both men's personal lives, with Hunt's heavy drinking and partying showing us he lives for the moment, and Lauda's many moments alone suggesting his perhaps deliberate isolation from the rest of his peers.
He doesn't focus too much on them off the race track, however, because the real drama ought to be during the races. But significant as their all-too-brief interactions in more social settings are, they are too friendly for there to be much tension between them. We get that tension from the races themselves - not because we side with one or the other, but because in Howard's hands these scenes are immensely thrilling.
Some shots taken from up close while they are driving, in which we can almost see the track in front of them reflected in their eyeballs, attempt to bring us closer to them, but there is little to work with, and we never truly get inside their heads. One scene is rendered in a way that signals we are seeing Hunt's imagination: It takes place while he is on the floor, picturing what the race in Monaco would look and feel like. But we never see much of this race when it actually happens. That may very well be because not much of dramatic interest happened there, but it is a disappointing development because the buildup has no payoff.
The final race, which ends the 1976 Formula One season, is another headscratcher: The pacing is perfectly controlled, the editing and the soundtrack work in unison to leave us breathless with tension, and the development of the action is completely satisfactory, but the visual effects of pouring rain are dreadful and really drown out any kind of realism we get in the rest of the sequence.
The racing scenes are much better than the film's character development, which is simplistic at best and rely on us drawing fast conclusions about the importance and the consequence of the supposed rivalry between the two drivers. Olivia Wilde, who briefly stars as Hunt's wife, could have provided a sorely needed sense of stability because of real-world interaction between Hunt and someone besides the sycophants around him, but we get no sense of their relationship or where it is headed before a truly superfluous scene in a New York City restaurant.
Although it was a documentary, the 2010 film Senna skillfully examined the antagonism between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, even from the outside; we never feel Hunt and Lauda are even remotely as hostile toward each other, which makes any description of their relationship as a rivalry all the more senseless.
Rush is not at all bad. The direction is at times superb, and the costume design and editing give a real flair to the proceedings, but the screenplay is simply not on the same level.
Rush is screened in the Czech Republic in English with Czech subtitles. However, be warned that a handful of scenes, in which Lauda speaks to his father or his wife, contain German dialogue only.
André Crous can be reached at
Tags: Rush, Ron Howard, Formula One.