Ron Howard is venturing back into the kind of film where he got his start with “Rush,” a film about the rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
The film opens on the Formula Three circuit, with playboy Hunt making the rounds when a challenger in the form of Lauda shows up and gives Hunt a run for his money. When the pair finds their way to the Formula One circuits, their rivalry reaches new heights during the 1976 World Championship and the trials of that season.
The 1976 season was burned into the history books by the fiery crash at the West Germany track that left Niki Lauda fighting for his life from burns. He fought his way back to race to defend his World Champion title just six weeks after the accident, but in the end Hunt achieved the title.
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl do superb jobs of portraying the womanizing Hunt and calculating Lauda, respectively. Besides the physical resemblances, the actors convincingly embody the racers personalities and the rivalry that drove the pair. Hemsworth brings a bit of larger-than-life Thor swagger to the table as the cocky British racer, and the transformation Bruhl undergoes to resemble Lauda underscores the actors immersion to the cold Austrian, whose drive is as much a trademark as the “Ferrari” brand he drove under.
In the beginning of the film the rivalry is clear cut and laced by mutual dislike, but by the end of the film, they have a nearly symbiotic relationship. They respect, and even share a friendship, as they recognize they are dependent on each other as the motivation to drive faster and harder.
The movie progresses quickly, even with the inclusion of romances that were never fleshed out enough for the audience to feel invested in them. The point at which these side stories become relevant is when Lauda makes the choice to pull himself out of the race due to his wife’s worries over a new accident under similar weather conditions.
Howard never shies away from the danger of the sport. Shots of compound fractures, burns rendering Lauda unrecognizable, and the scenes of his fight back to the race, including the cringing one of the doctors vacuuming Lauda’s lungs as he watches a race, lay it plain for the viewer just how close to death these racers are, and how alive it makes them.
“Rush” deserves a whole-hearted A-plus. I believe it to be the first true entry into the competition heavy awards season, with its brilliant cinematography, on-point actors and a smart script. It is rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use.