“Rush,” written by Peter Morgan, directed by Ron Howard, 123 minutes, rated R.
What is it that drives two men to risk life and limb, racing each other in an open cockpit car at 170 mph, knowing full well that there’s a good chance when you step into that vehicle, it may be the last time you ever do?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, which Ron Howard explores in his latest film, “Rush,” recounting the heated 1976 Formula One season, which pit Briton James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) against Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).
“Rush,” penned by the brilliant screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Damned United,” “The Queen”), tells the story from both Lauda and Hunt’s points of view, starting at their meager racing beginnings in the F3 series. Though opposites on and off the track – Hunt’s an impulsive, partying playboy, Lauda’s focused and calculated – they both reject what their parents consider more reputable career paths for racing. As they meet in Formula Three, narrowly avoiding an on-track collision, Hunt bests Lauda and egos clash.
A rivalry instantly springs to life.
As their careers progress, Lauda uses a loan to buy his way into the F1 series despite his amateur status, leaving a bitter taste in Hunt’s mouth, who remains in a secondary division. Baffled and flustered by Lauda’s success, Hunt pushes himself to find a ride in the top tier division, eventually opting to go sponsorless into F1 with the eccentric owner Lord Hesketh (Christian McKay). While Lauda wins his first F1 championship, Hunt makes his presence known, but remains without a sponsor by F1 rules, and Hesketh steps out of Formula One, leaving Hunt without a ride.
Hunt becomes an emotional wreck, desperately making calls to find a team that will take him on for the ’76 season, letting his already teetering marriage to Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) deteriorate completely in the process. A stroke of luck places Hunt with the McLaren team, setting the stage for a now infamous season of racing.
While “Rush,” first and foremost, is a movie that delves into the minds and hearts of these two competitors, Howard makes sure that we never forget this is a movie about racing. On more than one occasion, Howard gives us a full tour of the interior and exterior of a Formula One car, accompanied by a full-on engine roar that can surely get anyone’s adrenaline up and ready for some of the most intense and authentic race scenes in film history.
Though the racing scenes are incredible, and will surely bring in fans of the sport, it’s the study of Hunt and Lauda’s tete-a-tete duels that will keep audiences interested. What’s most fascinating about “Rush” isn’t necessarily the motivation for these guys to get behind the wheel in the first place, but what keeps them there. Name-calling and expletives fly across victory lane, as Hunt and Lauda dig deep into each others’ personal lives for trash to talk. It carries onto the track, of course, both men watching every move and decision of the other like a hawk. As their feud elevates race by race, an inexplicable bond develops, one that is frankly difficult for the everyman to fully comprehend.
It’s the true paradox of competition, and it’s that competition that drives both of these men. It’s knowing that the man next to him is relentless in his pursuit, and in that sense, “Rush” makes a grander statement beyond the story of the ’76 Formula One season, speaking to the very essence of sports.