Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl & Olivia Wilde
Directed by Ron Howard
R, 123 min.
The rivalry between two professional racers becomes the driving force in “Rush,” director Ron Howard’s dramatic depiction the 1970s competition between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
The racing world was captivated, back in the day, as Hunt and Lauda became superstars of European-based Formula One racing and vied for championship trophies in the first half of the decade. Not only were they passionate, prickly competitors, they also represented polar opposites: Hunt was a dashing, daring blonde-haired British playboy; Lauda was a straight-laced Austrian with an obsessive, calculating mind wired for speed---and a face, as Hunt used to remind him, like a “rat.”
The media loved them, the public loved them, and they loved--well, they loved racing, even though they knew it could kill them. There was a part of them that loved it because they knew it could kill them.
As Lauda (Daniel Brühl) points out, every time he climbs into his car’s cockpit, he’s aware there’s a 20 percent chance he won’t make it out alive.
“Staring death in the face, there’s nobility in that,” says Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). “It’s like being a knight.”
Brühl and Hemsworth are both outstanding, and it’s especially good to see Hemsworth break out of his “Thor” tights. Olivia Wilde shines in her role as the globetrotting fashion model who becomes Hunt’s wife...until another playboy, this one a famous Hollywood movie star, enters the picture.
Moviegoers who might be put off by the idea of a “racing” movie should know that while “Rush” revs up its story, it’s much more than a flick about fast cars. At its core are two men who happen to be racers, and the drama that builds around them as the years unfold. We learn how both Hunt and Lauda came to be both rivals and admirers, and how they were both “hulk-headed kids, scorned by [their] families, headed nowhere,” before finding their futures behind the wheels of the low-slung, super-fast cars on the Grand Prix circuit.
And we see how Lauda finds the will to recover from a horrific accident, and return to the track, by watching videotapes of Hunt continuing to win races.
Howard, the former child actor who grew up to become one of Hollywood’s top directors, adds another winner to his resume with this hip, cool-running crowd pleaser that’s also a terrifically made movie all-around. Each scene is meticulously constructed with careful detail, from the burnished, Kodachrome-esque glow cast by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (who won an Oscar for his work on “Slumdog Millionaire”), to the parade of ‘70s fashions and the soundtrack of retro tunes from David Bowie, Steve Winwood and Thin Lizzy.
The racing scenes, whether on sun-dappled pastoral country roads in England or dark, rain-lashed sections of do-or-die championship track under the imposing shadow of Mt. Fuji in Japan, are thrilling, taking advantage of everything that modern movies can do with seamless integrations of live action and digital effects.
But the thing that “Rush” does best, however, is never let you forget about the two men---the two real men---who did the driving.