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Set against the sexy, glamorous golden age of Formula 1 racing in the 1970s, the film is based on the true story of a great sporting rivalry between handsome English playboy James Hunt (Hemsworth), and his methodical, brilliant opponent, Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Bruhl). The story follows their distinctly different personal styles on and off the track, their loves and the astonishing 1976 season in which both drivers were willing to risk everything to become world champion in a sport with no margin for error: if you make a mistake, you die. Written by
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Twenty five drivers start every season in Formula One, and each year two of us die. What kind of person does a job like this? Not normal men, for sure. Rebels, lunatics, dreamers. People who are that desperate to make a mark, and are prepared to die trying. My name is Niki Lauda, and racing people know me for two things. The first is my rivalry with him.
I don't know why it became such a big thing. We were just drivers busting each other's balls. To me this is perfectly...
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As Asif Kapadia's gripping and extremely moving 2010 documentary Senna proved, cinema audiences have a thirst for the larger-than-life characters that inhabit the Formula One track. The sport itself is frightfully dull (although I'm sure plenty will disagree with that), but the sportsmen willing to lay down their life for a kick and a trophy are infinitely more fascinating, especially in the days of lax safety rules. The sport nowadays is little more than advertising on wheels, but when the likes of James Hunt and Niki Lauda battled it out on the track, epic rivalries were created, and no matter how talented these men were at driving these "coffins on wheels", every race could spell out death.
Rush portrays the clash of two opposing personalities. The long-haired, dashing Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) was all about the adrenaline, embracing the post-race parties and lying with the many women that would throw themselves at him. He was reckless, willing to risk his life and others in order to win, but, as described in the film, there was no better driver in the world in terms of raw talent. His rival, Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), was focused, clinical, and even helped design the cars he would drive. He was the early-night type, 'rat-faced' and cold. In every sense, he's the perfect villain.
But where Rush succeeds the most is challenging our early conceptions of these two characters. There's little fun to be had with Lauda, but played by Bruhl, he evolves into the underdog of the movie, perhaps the only one that actually gives a damn about his own life and the life of his opponents. This, naturally, leads to tragedy and a particularly wince-inducing scene in which Lauda requires having his lungs vacuumed, but it's at this point that we realise just what these two drivers mean to each other. As Lauda watches Hunt claw back some points in the 1976 Formula One season, it becomes clear that these two need each other to survive. Their hatred of one another only serves to fuel the flames, and leads to Lauda's defiant early return to the driver's seat, scarred and bandaged.
Fast cars, beautiful women and exotic locations hardly sounds like a recognisable workload for Ron Howard, one of the most play-it-easy directors out there. His past films have been unjustifiably successful, critically and commercially, never stamping a recognisable directorial trait onto his work. Yet here, although the bright sheen of the 70's initially takes some getting used to, he has managed to create a world that is very much alive, using snappy editing, a pumping soundtrack and some growing sound design to re-create this world for petrol-heads. But he doesn't neglect his characters, and evokes the great work done on Frost/Nixon (2008), which was also a study of two giant, clashing personalities coming together on the world stage.
Rush is an exhilarating experience, able to distinguish each race from the next and literally putting us in the driver's seat with the use of digital cameras. Although it occasionally drifts into formulaic territory with the introduction of the 'wives' (played by Oivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara, respectively), Howard cleverly uses this as an insight into Hunt and Lauda's personalities. Hemsworth is very good in his first 'proper' post-Thor role, but it is Bruhl that you take away from the film. How he gets you to initially loath him, only to be cheering him on at the climax is the work of a great actor, and it's a crime that he has been snubbed by the Academy this year. Hopefully this will inspire a host of decent sports movies, as Rush proves that you can mix character study and even existential musings with the thrill of sport.
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