Race car drivers come mainly from two schools. The first group are adored by the public and racing team owners for their love of speed and risk. When the green flag drops, they gladly embrace the reality that they may not make it to the finish line alive. The other set are more technically aware of every engineering aspect of their vehicle. They are willing to push themselves and their vehicles, but refuse to take any unnecessary risk. They tend to be a thorn in the sides of team owners, fellow drivers and the governors of the sport. The main characters in Ron Howard’s Rush, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), are the leaders of each these schools in the mid-70s.
Rush focuses on the battle for the World Championship in the 1976 Formula 1 season. Lauda and Hunt have a rivalry that dates back to the lower levels of the sport. They are the classic foils. Lauda is all about the technical precision of racing compared to Hunt’s carefree jump in the car and push your right foot to the floor approach. Picking a story from the golden era of the sport, Howard captures the essence of a bygone era where a single guy with money could: buy his way into a team; piece together a car in the lower levels; and eventually get a shot at the Formula 1 circuit.
Howard’s realistic portrayal of the driving scenes helps the overall production to feel authentic. The scenes convey the feel in the cockpit down to the vibrations that drivers feel when behind the wheel. Howard displays sheer speed as the cars leave the pavement, draft and hurdle inches apart around the circuit. He highlights how the vehicles were essentially time bombs on wheels at the peak of their power, speed and unpredictability. The other notable aspect of the film is the sound. The massive sound department creates a film that truly roars. Revving engines, shifting gears, squealing tires and breathtaking sequences of drivers’ losing control all provide a pulsating audible experience.
The set decorators, art department, and visual effects teams do a remarkable job of recreating the circuits of the 1976 F1 season. Every detail looks authentic from the helmets to the sponsor signage around each circuit to stickers on the cars themselves. Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is also a vital element of the piece. To make a successful racing movie the audience must feel as if they are sharing in the driver’s experience. Mantle mounts small cameras on bumpers, engine blocks and helmets to bring the viewer right into the action.
Peter Morgan continues his current run of top level scripts based on real people. In recent years his work has included screenplays for Frost/ Nixon, Last King of Scotland and The Queen. With a character like James Hunt at his disposal, a driver that embraced the racing lifestyle to the fullest, Morgan really gets to explore the celebrity side of the industry. A real life friend of Niki Lauda, Morgan presents the Austrian driver as a formidable and determined man. He is not flashy, but still willing to push himself beyond normal human limits to achieve his goals.
Rush is an hour and a half thrill ride that brings the viewer directly into the world of Formula 1 racing. Even if you are not a racing fan there is plenty in this film that you will enjoy. The rivalry between these two drivers, and the adversity that they each must overcome, is a compelling story. Rush is a film that I can highly recommend.