Historically, car-related movies are more hit-and-miss than most genres, and can generally be categorised into one of two camps. In one corner, you’ve got examples that lack the factual fortitude to impress proper car nuts; with the six Fast and Furious movies (to date) as Exhibit A, and Sylvester Stallone’s Driven (Rocky V on wheels) a very firm Exhibit B.
On the other hand, you’ve got movies such as Steve McQueen’s Le Mans or Steven Spielberg’s Duel that lack the narrative to engage a mainstream audience. However, you occasionally get one that impresses on both levels, and Rush is one such film.
With Ron Howard as director and a screenplay by Peter Morgan, this pairing gives Rush the same fundamentals that earned Frost/Nixon five Academy Award nominations in 2008.
Rush is centred around the 1976 Formula 1 One season, when the intense rivalry between F1 legends Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and the late James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) reached its climax, and Hunt (spoiler alert) ultimately emerged as world champion.
Lauda is the focused, motivated professional, who is destined to conflict with the roguish playboy antics of Hunt -- with whom he shares an immense talent behind the wheel.
We are also shown how the two diametrically-opposed characters first met while competing in Formula Three, and despite graduating to Formula One via similarly opposing channels their on-track rivalry only intensifies.
The racing scenes are very well shot, with excellent attention to detail that serves as a great reminder of the grit of 70s-era Grand Prix racing. Anyone who observed Howard’s constant Twitter updates during the film’s production will understand the level of detail involved in creating Rush, so its relieving to see that it’s been strung together so effectively.
From a non-F1 trainspotter’s perspective, you do catch the occasional glimpse of modern race circuit catch fencing, close-ups of actuating valves that show a combustion chamber devoid of spark-plug, and the Lincoln Town Car Hunt emerges from at the end wasn’t built until 1981, but that’s nit-picking.
Rush’s greatest success is its depiction the fiery near-fatal accident that left Lauda with his now-trademark scarring. The scenes that follow his crash are the most compelling of the film, preparing the audience well for the awe of his return to the track just weeks later. Bruhl’s performance itself is a highlight, and while Hemsworth’s greatest asset is his visual likeness to Hunt, Rush is a far better reflection of his acting talent than his previous work as Thor.
The real-life story of rivalry, sex, danger, and tragedy gave Howard a leg-up in creating Rush, but the film’s tempo and balance between on and off-track narratives should endear it to racing fans and mainstream audiences alike. Rush is destined to join Senna as one of the great car flicks, and opens in Australian cinemas on October 3.
This reporter is on Twitter: @Mal_Flynn