Director: Ron Howard
Major Players: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Stephen Mangan
Out of five? 3.5
Sometimes you go to a movie expecting one thing, but what you get is entirely something else. That can be for a whole lot of reasons, ranging from your own expectations to the dark arts of the marketing people
And that’s exactly the case with Rush, Ron Howard’s portrait of the rivalry between the Formula One champions, James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Take a look at the trailer, stills and posters. You’d think this was a James Hunt bio-pic. Until recently, the poster only showed Chris Hemsworth – in heavy make-up – as Hunt. A second one has since been released, which now shows him and Daniel Bruhl – almost as heavily air-brushed – as Lauda. Other than that, the focus is very much on Hunt.
But whose film is this? It traces the parallel careers of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, starting with their early days in Formula Three and culminating in their intense rivalry to be World Champion in 1976, a rivalry that nearly cost Lauda his life in a horrific crash which left him with terrible injuries. Clearly, from the way it is structured by screenwriter Peter Morgan, the movie belongs to both of them in equal part.
With Ron Howard’s name on it, you would also expect this to be a big Hollywood production, but it’s not. Apart from the director, this is very much a British effort, filmed on mainly UK locations with a number of familiar British faces in the cast (Julian Rhind-Tutt, Stephen Mangan) and a very modest budget of just $4 million dollars. It still, however, has a tinsel town look.
But if Rush is equally about Hunt and Lauda, the result is disappointingly uneven, partly due to the casting of the two leads. The lesser-known Daniel Bruhl is uncannily like the real Lauda and puts in a good performance in the unsympathetic role. Lauda was a notorious perfectionist, contemptuous of most people and single-minded in pursuit of the Formula One World Champion title. Chris Hemsworth is less successful as Hunt: he looks the glamorous playboy but the character is sketchily drawn and barely scratches the surface, with only hints of something deeper. Yet, according to Peter Morgan, Hunt had a ‘black dog’: you can only wonder what the film would have been like had we seen more of this side of him.
What makes Rush stand out is its re-creation of the races and the camerawork. Oscar winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle has done a tremendous job, giving us brilliant shots of the interior workings of the cars. There’s a throbbing sense of excitement and speed, regardless of whether or not you’re a Formula One fan. And how you react to the race in which Lauda crashes depends on whether you’re old enough to remember it. If you’re not, it’s a horrible shock and its aftermath is just as bad. If you are, then the surprise element is gone, but it’s replaced by a feeling of dread which is equally powerful, if not more so.
Peter Morgan has described Rush as a chase movie, which it is, both in terms of the races and the way both drivers chased the championship title. Although they were poles apart as people, they both spurred each other on and Hunt was one of the few people Lauda respected or had time for – even if he didn’t actually like him.
You’ll probably feel the same about Lauda.
Rush is released in the UK on Friday, 13 September.