Fast cars, big money, beautiful women. Formula 1 racing is THE glamor sport of Europe, and its drivers are superstars. These guys court death by racing at close to 200 mph in open-topped, open-wheeled cars.
In this legendary sport, 1976 is a legendary year. That season, Englishman James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda engaged in a rivalry for the world championship. Ron Howard's “Rush” tells the story of that landmark year. Hunt and Lauda are presented as polar opposites, with Hunt the handsome playboy and Lauda the serious, technological genius. Lauda, the sitting champ, held a healthy lead in points by mid-season. Then, on Germany's Nurburgring racetrack, Lauda had a horrific crash, suffering serious burns to his face and lungs. While Lauda fought for his life in the hospital, Hunt made up points in race after race. Thus, after only six weeks, with his skin grafts still oozing, Niki Lauda got back behind the wheel to defend his lead and his championship. The two rivals were able to duke it out to a legendary finish of the season.
“Rush” surprisingly doesn't show all that much car racing action. The focus is on the rivalry and how it serves as a goad to higher achievement. In one sense, Hunt bore some share of blame for Lauda's accident. Lauda had tried to convince the other drivers to cancel the race due to wet conditions, but Hunt pushed for the race to go on. Lauda doesn't express bitterness towards Hunt over that, however, as he says it was seeing Hunt win races in his absence that drove him to heal faster. Sometimes an enemy is just what we need to motivate us.
Like any great sports film, “Rush” works by transcending the sport to find what is universal and human. The racing scenes, in truth, are only marginally interesting. It's the personalities of the racers and their relationship that makes this excellent film so gripping. In real life, Hunt and Lauda's rivalry was always friendlier than as depicted in the film, but otherwise the movie is very historically accurate for a story with such a great narrative arc. I'm not much of a racing fan, and I wasn't sure about watching “Rush,” but Ron Howard, with help from superb performances by Chris Hemsworth (Hunt) and Daniel Bruhl (Lauda), has made a thrilling movie that anyone can enjoy.
4 stars out of 5