The Watchers

The Watchers

Friday, 11 October 2013

Review: Rush (UK Cert 15)

The story of the 1976 Formula 1 Grand Prix season is stranger than fiction and may well have been dismissed as contrived fancy if it didn't actually happen. Central to the drama of the season was the intense rivalry between British driver James Hunt and Austrian driver Niki Lauda, which had been brewing for years since their first meeting in a Formula 3 race in 1970. The Hunt/Lauda story is the basis for Rush, directed by Ron Howard from a screenplay by Peter Morgan. Howard and Morgan previously worked together on the frankly brilliant Frost/Nixon, so my hopes were high going in to it.

The film is anchored by a pair of superb central performances. Hemsworth is brilliant as Hunt, coming across as charismatic and charming without ever appearing sleazy. Hunt was no saint and the film doesn't shy away from showing his excesses (womanising, drinking and the like)- but, crucially, doesn't judge him for them either. Hunt comes across as a pleasure-seeker and risk-taker, occasionally reckless in life and on the track but a thoroughly magnetic presence. There's also an element of the underdog to Hunt which makes him empathetic. 

Bruhl's performance as Lauda is the polar opposite, incredibly minimal and almost insular but affecting. Lauda comes across as fastidious and almost fanatical, clinicial in his appraisal of the cars and of his life. The mantra of twenty percent risk and not one percent more follows him through. Lauda doesn't come across as the most likeable of people (certainly not compared to the charismatic Hunt) but Bruhl's performance utilises that aspect to his advantage. 

Other performances are decent enough. This is very much a Boys' Own Adventure so the female characters are a little shortchanged. Olivia Wilde doesn't get much to do but look pretty and get insulted by Hemsworth as Hunt's wife Suzy, whilst Alexandra Maria Lara gets more of a story as Lauda's wife Marlene. Her scenes with Bruhl in the latter stages of the film are emotionally affecting and poignant, without being saccharine or sentimental. Elsewhere, there are strong supporting performances by Christian McKay, Stephen Mangan and Julian Rhind-Tutt.

The racing scenes are painstakingly reconstructed with a real pulse-pounding verve, especially the fateful race at the Nurburgring and the final, rain-soaked Grand Prix in Japan. Even if you know the outcomes of these races (and the impact they have on the characters), there's still a palpable sense of tension wrought out of both situations- survival and success. 

My only niggle was the decision to use archive footage of the real Hunt and Lauda at the end. To me, it didn't seem necessary and bizarrely helped to shatter the illusion that the previous helped to create. It may seem a little disingenuous to complain that a fiction is undermined by bringing in fact but the world that Rush creates is so compelling and so engaging that it was a little jarring to be brought back to life.

If you're a fan of F1, you'll undoubtedly get more out of the film than if you're not. I am not a F1 fan by any stretch of the imagination but Rush swept me along into an involving and engaging story of intense rivalry and, ultimately, a mutual respect between two giants of the racing world.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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