Ron Howard’s Rush took me by surprise. What started out as a decent bio between two Formula One racing rivals, James Hunt and Niki Lauda, became a fully engrossing human drama.
Rush chronicles Hunt and Lauda’s fierce competition beginning in 1970, where both slum it in the minor leagues of auto racing: Formula Three. In their first race, Hunt, played by the Norse God himself, Chris Hemsworth, defeats Lauda, played by Daniel Bruhl, sparking a verbal spar between the two. As the years go by, both find their own ways up the ranks and into Formula One. By 1975, Lauda has won his first F-1 championship. The following year, Hunt makes the jump and the world of auto racing is front and center to an all consuming rivalry.
What works most in Rush is the relationship between Hunt and Lauda, which is surprising because half way through it looked like it would be a liability. Hunt and Lauda didn’t procure a raw emotion from me in the beginning. Sure, they were different foils for one another; Hunt being the playboy, living all aspects of his life on the edge, while Lauda was a man of discipline, precision and very little personality. Yet it was created with a great deal of subtlety. The rivalry wasn’t over the top; it wasn’t hammered home to the viewer forcing an emotion. That emotion came later, as the story was ever so crafted layer by layer until I was enthralled even before I knew it.
Rush is also the story of how these men changed because of the other. And it was perhaps Lauda who realized this the most, as the fullness of life, the life apart from the track was to be enjoyed as well as being a champion. In trying to keep up, these drivers were taken to heights that they never would have reached on their own. They needed one another more so than they needed any speed fix from a race car. It is this relationship, this hatred, which spurs the two drivers on to greatness, each on their own terms. I’m reminded of HBO’s documentary Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals, chronicling the rivalry between NBA stars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 1980’s. Once Magic retired after being diagnosed HIV positive, Bird said he lost his will to compete. He was always possessed with what Magic was doing; shooting more, practicing more. It was the drive that made them both the best. Hunt and Lauda had a similar ferocity, learning more about themselves through their mirror: the other.
Director Ron Howard is a terrific storyteller, and with Rush he tells a story with an old-fashioned feel. What I mean by that is, the viewer is pulled along, tugged ever so gently until, in the last quarter of the film they are so entrenched, Rush goes from a good movie to something great, something that has lasted and stayed with me since I left the theater. It reminded me of the reason that I am drawn to movies – any kind of movie. Beyond all the most modern cinematic bells and whistles, it’s the human drama which is most captivating of all. And it’s Howard’s touch that delivers that in Rush.
The racing scenes were exhilarating, giving this reviewer an adrenaline rush. With camera angles so close and sound blistering eardrums, one can’t help but be catapulted into the world of speed. This immersion gives us a sampling to the addictive nature of race car enthusiasts. Adding to the senses, Hans Zimmer does a terrific job with the musical score providing a striking and powerful chord. The film uses popular music tracks from the era that gives Rush a clear seventies feel, that and the pointed collars and floppy hair styles.
But perhaps the greatest joy of watching Rush was not knowing anything about the story, other than what I saw in a one-time trailer viewing. There is something magical about watching a great movie that you know very little about. You ask questions, you make predictions, but still you don’t know how the story will end. This is something I should remember, as I’m prone to inundate myself with so many trailers and video clips, there are very little surprises once the film makes it to the big screen. Thankfully in Rush, there were many.