Biopic filmmaker extraordinaire Ron Howard focuses his attention on the heated rivalry between Formula One giants James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the pulsating, character driven race flick Rush.
When delving into Ron Howard’s filmography it is the biopics that stand out as his best works. From Apollo 13 to Frost/Nixon, the re-enactments of lives and moments both profound and extraordinary (told with the right amount of Hollywood glitz) displays the Oscar winner at his visual, technical and narrative best, a feat once again achieved in Rush.
Subject wise car racing of any facet has not transitioned well to the big screen, with only the Steve McQueen led Le Mans and Will Ferrell NASCAR spoof Talladega Nights crossing the finish line intact. Rush is an exception.
Reuniting with fellow biopic king Peter Morgan (who made his name on screenplays for The Queen and of course Frost/Nixon), Howard was wise enough to know that the best characters for a racing car movie are those that breathed the fumes and knew the (at time fatal) risks of their profession, and it doesn’t get any more real than the heated rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
From the offset a fire/ice scenario is established. In James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) you have a sex symbol on wheels, a statuesque, long blonde haired lothario whose desire to win at all costs is equalled by his reputation as a hard partying womaniser off the track. (Hunt is reputed to have slept with 5000 women during his heyday!)
Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is all business all the time, a cold yet fiery competitor whose oft putting personality (“asshole” is his favourite word of choice) is as appealing as his physical appearance upon which the moniker “rat” was applied by his fellow drivers. The temperamental yet calculating Austrian replied with a middle finger in full salute and trophies on his cabinet.
Both Hemsworth and Bruhl deliver electrifying performances, with Howard’s reputation as an actor’s director and Morgan’s deft touch the perfect combination for these two rising stars to show off their acting chops.
With oodles of charisma pouring from his godly frame, Hemsworth exhibits dramatic talents that prove there is more to the Aussie superstar than hammer throwing. Yet it is Bruhl who is the real standout, taking an immensely unlikeable character and perfectly portraying the desire, anger and longing that made Lauda such a complex champion, whose belief that happiness can never lead to victory is shaken when a fiery inferno placed perspective on what was once an unnegotiable philosophy.
Of course Rush is about Formula One drivers, and Howard delivers with scenes that lift the bar on how car racing should be portrayed on screen. Much like his work on boxing biopic Cinderella Man, Howard blends the technical aspects of the sport with movie dramatics to create thrilling moments of motor revving, wheel screeching, vehicular spectacular that is dazzling in its technicality and will suck in motor enthusiast and layman alike.
With Rush, Howard has not only made one of his best films but has also proven that the combination of car racing and movie need not be a lemon. In fact, outside of the realm of documentary (in which Senna reigns), Rush is by leaps and bounds beyond the pack.