In all its forms, sport has given the world many great rivalries, and in Formula 1, none is more fabled than the stoush between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The two were considered polar opposites for much of their careers, but as this dramatisation of their lives demonstrates, there was a lot more complexity to their characters that went unseen.
To the public eye, Hunt (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) is a larger-than-life Briton whose long, blond hair is indicative of his boyish charms and partying ways. Lauda (Daniel “Zemo” Brühl), conversely, is viewed as a far less charismatic figure who carries himself with an air of sincerity. Their driving styles are very much an extension of these personalities: Hunt is brash and win-at-all-costs, whereas Lauda is a more methodical tactician.
Rush traces their rivalry to its early-Seventies origins in Formula 3, an open-wheeled racing category similar to Formula 1. There, Lauda’s calmer approach to driving is enough to earn him the attention of the F1 fraternity, with Ferrari signing him as a driver for the 1975 season; Hunt, believing he can beat the Austrian, participates as part of the privately-funded Hesketh team. Ferrari goes on to win that year’s championship, while Hesketh goes broke.
For the 1976 season, Hunt signs with Ferrari’s fiercest rival, McLaren, with the promise that he will maintain a clean public image. Now driving a faster and more reliable car, Hunt is able to vie for the driver’s title with Lauda, with the two men pushing each other to the edge. But after Lauda suffers a catastrophic, near-fatal crash at Germany’s Nürburgring circuit, the rivals find themselves reassessing their feud, and whether it is worth the effort.
The level of quality present in Rush is one seldom seen in sports films, partly due to its screenplay. Conceived by master scribe Peter Morgan (The Crown), it portrays the two drivers not as one-dimensional caricatures, as many at the time did, but as individuals laced with intricacy and nuance – much of the plot is devoted to highlighting Hunt and Lauda’s similarities, such as their estrangement from their families, their desire to win, and their fascination with the opposite sex.
Talking of which, the female protagonists play an integral role in the examinations of both drivers. Fashion model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) acts as Hunt’s muse, her fiery personality often contradicting with his wants and wishes. As for Lauda, he has Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara) for support, a source of comfort and restraint when it is most needed. Much like their driving styles, these relationships are reflective of both men’s personas – Hunt’s abrasiveness, and Lauda’s withdrawn nature.
The plot and character development aren’t the only notable aspects of Rush, for the racing sequences are equally astonishing – no other film comes close to replicating the tense, edge-of the-seat thrills of motorsport as this one does. The cockpit and body-mounted cameras provide an indication of what it’s like to drive a Formula 1 car, while the trackside photography and loud engine notes bestow a spectator’s perspective of the action.
And that’s not all there is to enjoy. Modern-day maestro Hans Zimmer has lent his talents to the soundtrack with orchestral pieces that emphasise the string section, as well as the occasional nostalgic rock song; the acting is strong all-round, but naturally, it’s leads Hemsworth and Brühl who are the stand-outs, perfectly encapsulating their respective characters. The only criticism this reviewer can offer is that some scenes do languish, particularly those that are dialogue-heavy.
Rush is a fascinating biopic that provides a thoughtful, engaging portrait of two giants of motor-racing, one which is abundant in well-written characters, convincing performances and immersive driving sequences. Sports movies cannot get much better than this.
This film was previously reviewed for YO Bendigo.