It’s Hunt vs Lauda…
Rush arrives in the slipstream of Senna, the 2010 documentary about Brazilian Formula 1 champion, Ayrton Senna. Senna did solid business at the box office – $11 million – and now director Ron Howard has taken on an earlier chapter in motor racing history that offers its own share of manly, high-speed thrills: the on-track rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan previously collaborated on Frost/Nixon – another dramatic recreation, focussing on the public duel between two high-profile figures of very different temperaments. There’s something of that going on here: the pivotal events in Rush take place during the 1976 Formula 1 season, one year before David Frost’s television interviews with Richard Nixon. Much as Frost was an affable showman with plenty of hustle, so James Hunt is a charming ladies man with lashings of derring-do. His rival, Niki Lauda is as unlikable as Nixon; although he lacks the former President’s menace and presence, he is small and flinty-eyed with ratty front teeth.
As Hunt, Chris Hemsworth – Thor to you and me – gets to swagger around in a donkey jacket, being charming and having sex with airhostesses – “he’s a good driver, but an immortal fuck” – while Daniel Brühl is presented as the more serious of the two men, a professional who wants to win races, not make friends. All of this opens in England in 1973, when the two men first meet in Formula 3. The narrative exposition is high: the first 45 minutes is basically people telegraphing data about who they are and what they’re going to do to the audience. “You’re just a rookie! The only reason we took you on is because you paid us!” And so on. Thankfully, at no point does Lauda turn to Hunt and say, “You know, James, maybe we are not so different after all…”, although on occasion Peter Morgan’s script teeters close.
Howard shoots the race scenes brilliantly – they a little Tony Scott in terms of over-saturated colour and jump cuts, but it’s an effective treatment, especially on the climactic Japanese Grand Prix, in the shadow of Mount Fuji in lethal weather conditions.
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