Much like how the real James Hunt rose up from Formula 3 to Formula 1, Chris Hemsworth first appeared to a mass audience in 2009 portraying the small role of George Kirk, Captain James Tiberius Kirk’s father in J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek. Since then, Hemsworth has rose to glory with major roles in Thor, Avengers Assemble, The Cabin in the Woods, Snow White and the Huntsman and many more.
Similarly, Austrian racer Niki Lauda started his career as a nobody and at the same level as Hunt in Formula 3 before being signed up for the Ferrari Formula 1 team and winning the 1975 Grand Prix. Much like Lauda, Daniel Bruhl started his career relatively unknown to American and British audiences, appearing primarily in German films such as the critically acclaimed drama Goodbye Lenin! It wasn’t until Bruhl appeared in the likes of The Bourne Ultimatum and Inglourious Basterds that western audiences knew his name. Because both Hemsworth and Bruhl have similar underdog stories to Hunt and Lauda, it came as no surprise that they would be cast as both drivers in Ron Howard’s biopic Rush.
Starting off in 1970, Rush introduces audiences to two upcoming drivers in the racing world. One is the playboy charming Brit, James Hunt (Hemsworth). The other is the arrogant but dedicated and clever Austrian, Niki Lauda (Bruhl). Originally depicting their early origins in Formula 3, Rush showcases how over the course of 6 years, Hunt and Lauda would earn their places in Formula 1 and develop an intense rivalry between one another. A rivalry so deep that it affected their professional and personal lives and led to them going head to head in the 1976 Formula 1 Grand Prix as well as the tragic event during the Nurburgring race on August 1st, 1976.
Straight from the start, it was clear that an incredible amount of research had taken place to indulge the audience in the world of Formula 1 and make it authentic. Clips from the original 1976 races and of the real Hunt and Lauda were used. English and Italian cast members portrayed the Ferrari and McClaren Formula 1 teams.
Hans Zimmer’s score entwined with sounds of roaring Formula 1 cars helped create the tension and suspense involved when watching or even competing in the sport. However, it was clear that much of the research focused on the lives of Hunt and Lauda themselves, as this was portrayed with great attention to detail.
Audiences were shown how Hunt, while cheerful and enthusiastic in public, could at times be a nervous wreck, vomiting before a race and resorting to dope or alcohol to console him after a defeat. With Lauda, we were shown how serious he took his Formula 1 career, such as demanding a car to be rebuilt with magnesium to make it 2 seconds faster.
Lauda was also shown to have taken his life in general seriously to the point that he would make himself an enemy to many, envious of Hunt’s happy-go-lucky attitude and ignorant to his own personal health. What was more astonishing is that while Rush depicts their rivalry, it does not suggest that one character is simply good and the other is bad as is the case with Top Gun. Instead, Rush follows in the footsteps of Warrior and showcases that while Hunt and Lauda have different ideas of what it means to be a Formula 1 driver, both characters have moments when they were equally good and bad and could be liked and/or hated by audiences.
Despite being busy over the years with the re-launch of Arrested Development, as well as trying and failing to make a summer blockbuster out of Angels & Demons, I was pleased to see that Ron Howard was able to return to form. With Rush, Howard conveys the same detail and drama that were present in his previous Oscar worthy biopics like Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon.
In particular, I respect Howard for not using unnecessary time to detail every aspect of Hunt and Lauda’s lives other than what occurred between 1970 and 1976. An example being when it came to showing what happened to Hunt and Lauda after the 1976 grand prix, Howard merely used a short montage and voiceover from Bruhl to convey this information that created a stronger emotional response than what a cold and unemotional credits sequence could do. Howard set out to solely show the rivalry between Hunt and Lauda during the 1976 grand prix, and did so perfectly.
Although I, like many, may not be a fan of Formula 1 or the idea of seeing Chris Hemsworth naked, I can honestly say there was never a moment when watching Rush that I lost interest in its narrative and was looking at my watch. Regardless of what the title might suggest, I was in no rush for this perfectly orchestrated biopic to end and would be surprised if anyone did not come out feeling exhilarated.