Rush captures the cavalier days of Formula 1, when an average of two drivers were killed on the track each season and the stars of the sport could win races with tar in their lungs and booze in their bellies. And like most sports movies, it’s arguably a more enjoyable watch if you don’t know anything about the historical events it covers.
At the film’s centre is the rivalry between hard-partying British driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and straight-edged Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), which persisted in the early to mid 1970s and culminated in the 1976 season, when each was in with a shot of taking home the World Championship.
Both drivers come from privileged backgrounds and each has been ostracised for turning to racing rather than following a more stable path, but this is where their similarities end. Lauda is abrasive and ambitious, which makes him a bit of a loner, even in light of his successes. Hunt attracts people with his easy charm, although he’s far from professional and his lack of focus threatens to derail his career on more than one occasion.
The film makes a half-hearted attempt to showcase the women in the lives of these duelling dudes, with Olivia Wilde stepping in as Hunt’s supermodel wife. But they’re quickly brushed aside in favour of the meatier chunks of plot involving Lauda and the track.
Perfunctory dialogue threatens to send the drama spinning into the tire wall of tedium from time to time, but it is Brühl who repeatedly corrects the course of the film. He’s the star of the show, outshining Hemsworth with an interpretation of Lauda that is focused and thorough, but funny when it needs to be. It’s worth seeing on the strength of his performance alone.
Director Ron Howard creates some dramatic imagery, particularly during the rain-drenched face-offs during climactic moments, but he doesn’t quite capture the sense of speed that you’d expect from an F1 movie. It’s hardly a disaster, particularly as the bellowing sound effects can make up for moments that lack kinetic momentum.
Rush will probably be a hit with motorsport fans, although without an enthusiast’s eye it’s difficult to tell whether the technical aspects of the period racing are particularly accurate. For casual audience members, you’ll either get a kick from Hemsworth’s handsomeness or Brühl’s acting talents, both of which, like the people they play, are remarkable.