Rush is a tale of one of the greatest, most overlooked rivalries in the history of sports. James Hunt of Britain and Niki Lauda of Austria were the two premier Formula One racers in the 1970s, fighting their way up into the big leagues to prove that they could put their lives on the line and come out on top. Howard makes these men neurotic, compulsive, competitive, at times emotionless, but still understandable and rooted in their own reality. Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a playboy that races dangerously and unpredictably on the track, making him difficult for sponsors to back but leading to a huge fan base. Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is one driven by a passion to succeed in something he truly understands, passing up on opportunities to work through his father and his wealth.
Lauda’s relationship with Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) becomes one of the film’s defining points, turning into Lauda’s reason for racing, and ultimately passing up on opportunities. He does not seem to treat the love as we’d naturally expect, but he loves her; it’s a complex role that Brühl nails to its core, because without him it would be a lifeless, accent-ridden mess. Hemsworth gives us insight into Hunt, particularly with a nice read on his face during Lauda’s press conference post-crash and another where he returns to a cab after meeting with his estranged wife, Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). Wilde’s a tremendous actress, but her and many of the female/supporting roles are woefully underwritten. This is a film about its two central characters, though, of which it develops them extensively.
The film’s editing, sound design, score, and cinematography are all impeccable; technically, this a proficient, dense feature. Zimmer’s score soars when it needs to and adds heft underneath smaller, tense dramatic scenes. Mantle’s cinematography is wonderfully crafted, particularly in the film’s final half hour; that final Grand Prix race in Japan may stand as one of the most gorgeous scenes I’ll see all year. Howard’s direction cannot be understated, though, since he works with Morgan (the screenwriter) to make this film a complex struggle between vastly different forces. The story’s built on crafting these characters equally and fittingly in rewarding action sequences. In Rush, Ron Howard does something very rare in modern cinema: he fleshes out two compelling heroes, each deserving of a win through their transformations, and gives us a conclusion that’s fitting and satisfying.
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)