By Max Conoley, Editor
Every sport has its memorable rivalries. Boxing has Ali vs. Frazier. Baseball has New York vs. Boston. And in the world of Formula 1 racing, for at least one year, there was James Hunt vs. Niki Lauda, and that is the story told in Ron Howard’s Rush. And I got to tell you, I loved every bit of it.
The last Ron Howard film that I actually liked was 2005’s Cinderella Man, which is also a sports film. In Rush, Howard takes a well-crafted script from Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and makes a film that is more like a shot of pure adrenaline.
The film takes back to the early 70’s when the hard-partying, aggressive driving Brit James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and the calculating, somewhat arrogant Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Hunt is what race car drivers were stereotyped as back then. He sleeps with all the hot girls, he drives with a left foot, and he looks more like a rock star than a driver. Lauda was a perfectionist who viewed racing as a business and preferred working on his car in the garage over smooth talking business people at parties.
As the film progresses, we learn about Hunt and Lauda separately. They rarely share screen time and when they do, they make it clear that they don’t like each other. But they have similar backgrounds. They both came from money, their respective fathers wanted them to go into the family business, but they decided not to and worked their ways up to the big time. Hunt will stop at nothing to win, literally. I don’t think he knows where the brake is. Lauda, on the other hand is aware of the dangers of the sport. He knows that every time he’s out on the track, there is a 20% chance he won’t make it.
Hemsworth shows us that he can do more on screen than just throw a hammer around as his performance here as Hunt is great. He looks and sounds like the late, great racer. And Brühl’s work as Lauda is nothing short of brilliant. They’re nomination worthy pieces of acting that I consider two of the best performances of the year.
Aside from the lead performances, there are a few worthy supporting performances of note. Olivia Wilde, in all her beauty, does great work as Suzy Miller, the British model who married Hunt after the 1975 season, only to leave him a few months later for Richard Burton. Alexandra Maria Lara is terrific as Lauda’s wife, Marlene. And Christian McKay, one of my favorite character actors working today, does fabulous work as Lord Alexander Hesketh; the owner of Hunt’s first racing team who I wish had more screen time, because he doesn’t show up at all in the entire second half of the film.
Howard proves once again that he can make good movies after the disaster that was The Dilemma, but, despite the great performances, Rush, like the people it is about, is absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire) and the great Hans Zimmer’s score form a deadly combination, the engines of the F1 cars sound incredible, and the hair and makeup people deserve recognition as well.
Rush was one of the most exciting movie going experiences I’ve ever had. Terrific performances, pitch perfect direction, outstanding music selection (even Gimme Some Lovin’), and everything else come together to make this movie a memorable one. This is one of the best sports movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. See Rush, you’ll be glad you did.
FILM GRADE: A