Ron Howard’s latest, Rush, would make a terrific double bill with the outstanding 2010 documentary Senna. Both feature true stories about famous Formula One feuds, heated drivers meetings, the perils of racing in the rain and so forth. But both are also universally relatable even if one has absolutely no interest in racing whatsoever.
Like Senna, Rush is a hugely dramatic tale of ambition, obsession and loss. It chronicles the mid-1970s rivalry between British James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), as they battled it out for the 1976 Formula One Championship. Despite some intensely exciting racing sequences, this is at heart a character study of two similar yet different men; both from wealthy backgrounds, both hugely arrogant and determined to win, but massively different in their motivations, worldviews and personalities.
On the surface, Hunt seems more likeable – a handsome, womanising, crowd-pleaser who exudes genuine charisma. Yet as the film progresses his hedonistic lifestyle proves destructive to those around him. Lauda by contrast is methodical, analytical and socially awkward. He has ruthless business sensibilities and seems to lack a sense of humour, in spite of sharing Hunt’s ability to handle the press well. At one point he even tells his wife that happiness “is the enemy” because it means he loses focus.
One scene where Lauda and Hunt are together at the race track visually demonstrates the massive difference in how the public sees them, with Hunt accosted by loads of (mostly) female fans, and Lauda slipping past unnoticed. Yet ultimately the characteristics that make Lauda seem a bit square are shown to be positive, especially his disarming honesty and ability to forgive.
Both Hemsworth and Bruhl contribute excellent performances, the cinematography (by Anthony Dod Mantle) has the chroma saturated look and feel of a 70s movie, and Ron Howard – a massively underrated director – holds the piece together with considerable flair. Perhaps Rush isn’t anything new or revolutionary, but it does what it does really well. It even has one or two quite profound observations to make about the reckless idolatry of a win-at-all-costs mentality, along with some wise thoughts on how having an enemy can actually be a positive thing.
I should probably add warnings for swearing, sexual content and one or two slightly gruesome injury moments, but nothing seemed gratuitous. All things considered Rush is a very fine piece of work. Try and see it in the cinema if you can. Incidentally, if you haven’t seen Senna yet, put that at the top of your must-see list too.