You don’t need to be a racing aficionado to enjoy Rush. In fact, you don’t need to have ever heard of either James Hunt or Niki Lauda, either.
The research is done for you in this exploration of the rivalry between the heated rivals on the Formula One race-car circuit during the mid-1970s, with a sterling behind-the-scenes pedigree that includes director Ron Howard, screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen) and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire).
It’s a film that focuses not only on the cars on the track, but on the drivers inside them. And more specifically, it gets inside the heads of those drivers to show that while the machines might have evolved over the years, the drivers in many ways are the same.
The two subjects are Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), the brash British playboy who enjoys fast cars and a faster lifestyle, and Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), the crafty and hard-working Austrian driver who develops the skills to match Hunt on the track, setting up a globetrotting showdown for the 1976 circuit title that tests the physical and emotional limits of both men.
The film indulges in some formulaic sports-movie moments, but Howard is adept at whipping them into a slick and crowd-pleasing package that pushes the right buttons. During the racing sequences, he favors close-ups and point-of-view shots from the cockpit that offer viewers a visceral experience. The visuals have a striking authenticity, even for moviegoers who won’t have knowledge of the vintage cars and tracks on display.
Meanwhile, Morgan’s script goes beyond winners and losers and revved-up engines, and becomes more intrigued by the psychology of racing — the danger inherent to the sport and how its participants are often willing to overlook the risks for a chance at fame, fortune and an adrenaline rush. Morgan knows his stuff behind the wheel, but also is smart enough to realize the more compelling drama comes off the track.
Hemsworth (Thor) and Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) each find the right balance of bravado and sympathy to make convincing adversaries. Of course, they are helped along by fascinating true-life characters at the height of their sport’s popularity.
Rush might be nostalgic for some and might offer an introduction for others. That it can be equally entertaining for both demonstrates the film’s ability to switch gears.
Rated R, 123 minutes.