The most gratifying aspect of “Rush” is the fact that it’s not a racing movie. In many ways, it’s not really even the sports epic insinuated from trailers with careening vehicles and broiling explosions. Instead, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan focus on building exceptional characters and crafting a story that transcends mere thrill-seeking arenas, fast cars, beautiful women, and close calls. It’s about an unflinching duel – an obsessive determination that borders on insanity, yet gives a drive and purpose to absorbingly uncommon antiheroes.
On August 1st, 1976, at the German Grand Prix, two of the twenty-five Formula 1 racecar drivers face off in a long awaited championship-determining match. Their heated confliction began six years earlier (the film annoyingly jumps back in time after introducing a contest that represents nothing more than an inevitable point in the future) when the lower-level Formula 3 stage afforded a confrontation between impulsive, wild, uncontrollable James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and the severe, calculating, friendless Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). At the 1970’s event in London, Hunt bests Lauda with brash daredevilry, sparking insults and hatred.
Lauda takes out a loan to become appealing to a Formula 1 team that needs funds, bypassing a traditional rise through the ranks. He essentially buys his way into the big leagues without earning a spot via wins. Shortly thereafter, he’s signed by Ferrari. Hunt follows suit, and it’s not long before he’s at the helm of a comparably nimble McLaren car. By the time the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix comes around, marking the final race of the season, Hunt is just a few points behind Lauda, providing a maddening opportunity for a dethroning of the reigning champ. Whereas Hunt is an immature playboy who impulsively marries top model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) while surrounding himself with alcohol, drugs, partying, and occasions for infidelity, Lauda is serious to a fault. He’s sensible, reasoning, focused, and disciplined, but is disliked by all of the same colleagues that admire his talent.
It takes a particularly skilled filmmaker to base a project around real, historical people that inhabited a time (and specific tournament) that is no longer in the public consciousness. F1 racing isn’t entirely uncommon, but the history of the competition and the fierce rivalry between Lauda and Hunt are certainly largely undiscovered concepts to the majority. It’s based on actual events, but it might as well have been entirely fictional. Howard makes the audience care about fascinatingly cinematic personas that follow a course of larger-than-life tragedy and adventure – exactly how they would be fashioned if they were entirely fabricated. It’s an enticing, exhilarating blend of drama and character development that stays consistent on and off the track.
In the background exists an examination of publicity, the press, and celebrity in negative lights. So too dwells the evils of viewership and advertisers bloodthirstily intent on watching and revering gladiatorial acts of violence – death-defying clashing in a hippodrome where twenty percent of participants perish. Television rights to the final showdown have been sold around the world, shaping an impossibility of cancellation, even when jeopardous conditions warrant a delay at best. The money that Hunt and Lauda’s last confrontation represents is worth far more than human lives. Inspirational underdogs they are not; the two racers are simply unexplainably motivated opponents desperate to make a name, regardless of the risk. “It’s just a little coffin, really,” admits Hunt matter-of-factly as he presents his incommodious vehicle to Suzy.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)