When I was growing up in the 1970s there was no ESPN. There was one baseball game shown on television on Saturday afternoon and “Monday Night Football” was just beginning. If you enjoyed sports your show of shows was ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” From cliff divers to the Harlem Globetrotters and everything in between, WWoS was the place to be. Among the events broadcast was Formula One racing. Think of it as NASCAR in a smaller, less safer car. In 1976 the World Championships of Formula One racing came down to two drivers: James Hunt of England and Austria’s Niki Lauda. Both paid a price in their hunt for the top prize, a price detailed brilliantly in Ron Howard’s latest film, “Rush.”
James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) seemingly has it all. Good looks. A way with the ladies. And the ability to drive a car faster then almost anyone else in the world. From early days in the minor leagues of racing he has worked his way into the echelon of Formula One racing. Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) can also maneuver a car around a track with seeming ease. But instead of embracing all that racing has offered he keeps to himself, constantly working to become the best he can be. On August 1, 1976 at the Nurburgring Grand Prix in Germany, both men’s lives changed in an instant. Those changes, and the events that lead up to them, are the story of “Rush.”
It’s ironic that Ron Howard’s first film as a director, 1977’s “Grand Theft Auto,” dealt with cars going very fast and crashing. His latest film is yet another jewel in the crowns of one of the finest filmmakers of the past quarter century. In his second pairing with screenwriter Peter Morgan (the two earned much deserved Oscar nominations for their first venture, “Frost/Nixon”), Howard has managed to take the audience inside the world of Formula One racing, putting them directly into the cockpit and enabling them to experience the thrill and the danger from their seats. Morgan’s script is solidly written, especially when it deals with the inner workings of the main characters. Hunt is the typical 70s athlete…confident to the point of being smug. Lauda is the same, only where Hunt’s attitude is looked at as bravado Lauda comes across as arrogant. They both find themselves supported by significant others, again in similar yet different fashion. While Suzy (Olivia Wilde) eventually learns that the only love in Hunt’s life is racing, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) learns to accept her place in her husband’s life and her support is vital. Sadly, both female leads don’t have much to do, often as much in the background as the fans in the stands. A sub-plot showing Suzy Hunt dating Richard Burton (they would eventually marry after, rumor has it, Burton paid James Hunt $1 million to hasten the divorce) seems to be shoehorned into the film at the last minute.
Both leads are outstanding. If you only know Hemsworth from his work as Thor in the various Marvel Universe films, prepared to be impressed. He captures perfectly Hunt’s swagger yet still manages to portray the vulnerability Hunt felt in his lonelier moments. Bruhl is just as captivating. Probably best known to movie goers for his portrayal of Private Frederik Zoller in “Inglorious Basterds,” Bruhl is sure to make the short list in the Best Supporting Actor category come Oscar time. And keep a spot reserved for Howard as well. His cameras not only take you to the races, they put you in the middle of them. You can practically feel the wind in your face as the camera takes you around the track at 200 miles per hour. Simply put, “Rush” is a rush!