A Formula 1 driver is in the pit lane during a race, dark rain pounds the circuit, and visibility is almost zero. The driver loses track position as the cars that didn’t pit storm past. He needs to win the race to win the championship, and it would be suicidal to attempt overtaking. The driver says ‘Fuck it’ as his car storms out of the pit lane and overtakes ten cars in one go. Rush is a wet dream for Formula 1 fans, and one of the most thrilling and entertaining auto racing based movies ever made.
The Frost Nixon writer-director team of Peter Morgan and Ron Howard not only understand the spirit of Formula 1 but also know how to tell a compelling F1 story to people who aren’t familiar with the sport. Rush chronicles the incredible cutthroat rivalry between former F1 legends James Hunt and Niki Lauda, and does it in style. Howard and Morgan jettison biopic and sports drama clichés and instead deliver a smart, gripping and gorgeous movie. It helps that the film stars the hugely charismatic Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Lauda – both actors not only look like the people they play but are also pretty spot on in their mannerisms.
The title of the movie might seem mundane but you’ll relate to it the moment it begins. Most auto racing films contain tacky looking hyper edited scenes that cheat their way to give the impression of speed. This is not the case with Rush, because Howard and his DOP Anthony Dod Mantle have filmed the racing sequences with such energy you feel your blood pumping in your chest. They pull the camera back to actually show the racing instead of jamming it against the actors’ faces. The stylized edits are there too, but Howard and Mantle do it with snazzy new techniques, maintaining the tasteful sophistication of F1 and without giving in to the silly action spectacle of the Fast and Furious films.
The detailing is pretty slavish as well – Howard captures every minute element of an F1 race, from the cars to the circuit to the frenzy of the chequred flag. Those familiar with the story of Hunt and Lauda will be glad to see the respect given to the sport, the drivers and their battle, while others will be biting their nails to figure out who ends up winning the championship.
The visual beauty of Rush is complemented by the film’s solid narrative. Just like a Ferrari the film zooms past its two hour runtime. Howard sold out and messed up factual accuracy in A Beautiful Mind but he seems to have learned from his mistakes. Rush boldly sticks to the facts surrounding Hunt and Lauda without Hollywoodizing the story, and it is a bonus that their lives were just like a massive dramatic Hollywood film. The fierce enmity, mutual respect and insecurity between the two drivers is superbly established.
Last year’s F1 documentary Senna was a well made albeit one-sided story of its protagonist, but Howard and Morgan delve into the unsympathetic sides of Hunt and Lauda as well. And surprisingly, they do it without making it melodramatic. Lauda suffered a horrible accident in the middle of the season where he battled against Hunt for the championship – but Howard films Lauda’s tragedy and the events that follow in such a way that you end up cheering for the character rather than feel pity for him. There are plenty of heroic moments in the film and you can’t help but clap till your hands bleed.
(First published in MiD Day)