James Hunt and Niki Lauda. A screenwriter would be hard pressed to invent two more contrasting personalities than these iconic Formula 1 drivers. One a champagne-quaffing English playboy who oozed charisma; the other a dour, driven Austrian who couldn’t even charm his own teammates.
And they make perfect subjects for writer Peter Morgan, who has reunited with Frost/Nixon director Ron Howard for Rush, a slick, exhilarating, terrifically entertaining movie about the pair’s intense rivalry during the 1970s. As Morgan and Howard remind us, that was a fast and furious, high-risk era when, in words given to Lauda in voiceover, ‘25 drivers start the season; two of us die’.
Hunt, played with a cavalier swagger by a perfectly cast Chris Hemsworth, finds nobility in the danger. Lauda, played by an equally convincing Daniel Brühl, takes a far more calculating approach. On the eve of a race, Hunt will most likely be cavorting with models and air hostesses; Lauda will be huddled with his mechanics.
Morgan doesn’t probe particularly deeply into his heroes’ psyches, and he probably over-revs some of the off-track drama. But he and Howard give the action such flash and dash that it seems churlish to complain.
They don’t go at full throttle all the time, though. The film’s earlier scenes have an enjoyable comic brio: Lord Hesketh (Christian McKay), a toff right out of PG Wodehouse and Hunt’s aristocratic sponsor, getting his butler to serve oysters and caviar in the pit; a hitchhiking Lauda showing off his driving skills to a pair of Ferrari fans and his hitherto blasé future wife (Alexandra Maria Lara). But when the duo’s rivalry comes to a head during the incident-filled 1976 season and things turn more serious, Morgan and Howard thrillingly increase the film’s dramatic torque.
We may never quite feel we’re inside Hunt and Lauda’s heads, but for the tyre-scorching, nerve-shredding races themselves, shot beautifully through a petrol haze by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and given extra charge by Hans Zimmer’s score, they’re so electrifying we’re strapped in the cockpit alongside them.
Certificate 15. Runtime 122 mins. Director Ron Howard.
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