Howard’s“Rush”deserves the hype

Lily Korte, Staff Reporter

Great achievers throughout history are driven by a variety of factors. Some are motivated by money, some by fantasies of attaining power, while others simply want to prove wrong every person who ever doubted or slighted them in the past. From a filmmaker’s perspective though, the most interesting biographies to dramatize are inevitably those of people motivated primarily by rivalry. Ron Howard’s “Rush” examines the struggle for racing supremacy between two talented Formula One drivers in the mid-1970s: Irresponsible British playboy James Hunt (portrayed by Chris Hemsworth) and uptight Austrian perfectionist Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).

Some of the early buzz about the film had been in the form of juvenile snickering over the fact that the man who once played “Opie” was now going to direct his first sex scene, but the sex and drugs aspect of James Hunt’s life is mostly a secondary part of the film. The primary focus is on the rivalry between two great drivers and on the culture of the racing world itself, and Hunt’s hedonism and arrogance seem to show that his rivalry with Lauda is almost as much of a clashing of personalities and life philosophies as it is a professional battle for the title of Champion. According to Lauda’s autobiography, the two men were relatively close friends in real life, but screenwriter Peter Morgan seems justified in using a bit of dramatic license to play up the tension between the two at a time when they were in direct competition for racing’s greatest prize.

It’s a bit hard to call anything that happens in the movie a “spoiler” when a film is about real people and real events. I saw the film without having any idea about what would happen next, but anybody who has more than a passing familiarity with F1 history will already know what fate befalls the drivers in the 1976 F1 season, in terms of victories as well as defeats and, most notably, car crashes. Over and over again, the film drives home the notion that any time a F1 driver gets into his car, he runs a 20 percent chance of dying. According to a recent bit of analysis commissioned by the BBC, this precise figure is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s certainly no exaggeration to say that the sport is a very dangerous one overall. This is proven by the formidable list of crashes and fatalities during the era in which the film is set (though fortunately, no F1 driver has been involved in a fatal accident since 1994). Needless to say, terrible accidents do occur to various drivers over the course of the film, and depictions of both the injuries and hospital treatment for them can be difficult to watch; a scene where a character’s lungs are vacuumed out while he is still conscious is particularly brutal. The scenes on the track are also nail-biting to watch, especially when the races are occurring in inclement weather. One can’t help but get the sense that it takes a sort of madness to throw oneself so willingly into such a dangerous sport, but the danger does make Hunt’s libertine lifestyle off the track understandable, if not quite acceptable.

From a technical standpoint, it’s a very well-made and well-acted film. It perhaps unavoidably lapses into some of the standard clichés of sports films and depictions of rivalries, but is generally good enough to stand as a decent film on its own merits without feeling too derivative. Hemsworth and Brühl deserve particular praise as the two leads, as they more or less carry the film by themselves. All the other characters in the film feature in very minor roles by comparison.

Perhaps most surprising is how much both actors physically resemble the real people they portray— when the real Hunt and Lauda are seen in snippets of archival footage at the movie’s end, they are instantly and eerily recognizable. Morgan’s script is occasionally a bit too predictable for my taste, but he does an effective job of compressing a lot of action and personalities into what can fit into the length of a film. Similarly, Ron Howard senses when to focus more on the racing and when to pull back and see more of the men who drive the cars, as well as the people in their lives, from team members to financial backers to long-suffering wives and girlfriends.

It’s an intense, attention grabbing film that goes beyond explanations of fame, fortune or pure adrenaline to look at why people put themselves in such danger for the sake of sport.