By: James Groth
The film “Rush” is appropriately named and delivers a high-octane adrenaline rush that is non-stop and intense. Director Ron Howard has given race fans a film that will rank with the all time greats of “Le Mans”, “Bullitt” and “Winning”. He meets the standard of those iconic films and has set the current bar higher for race and car based films. This is not “Driven” or “Days of Thunder” this is the serious approach to racing films and it’s a checkered flag finish for “Rush”
Before Howard could deliver a film of this quality and magnitude he had to satisfy his investors and the studio that this project would have broad appeal to a general audiences as entertainment. He succeeded by having Peter Morgan write a strong character driven story that has the 1976 Formula 1 Championship as its base. The intenseness is properly balanced between the action on the track and between the twin lead characters James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The intensely level is into the “red line” of my tachometer and had me unable to sit still during some race scenes. The track action shots seem to meld seamlessly with the CGI to where it is not an issue.
Race fans will not be disappointed with the F1 cars and the selected racetracks. The scenes in the rain are the most impressive rather than the expected crashes. Many of the crashes are hard to watch because of the reality of death and major injury that was and to a much lessor degree are part of the sport. While the 1950’s and 1960’s were the worst for driver fatalities it was still a major factor in 1976. Director Howard communicates that fear and shows it needs to be heeded or pay a high price.
It terms of general audience appeal, Director Howard scores major points for exceptional entertainment without predictability and stereotypes. Howard captures the essence of era’s style and attitude. The clothing is period correct as are the beautiful women wearing them. “Rush” features gorgeous women throughout the film that are not overplayed, Olivia Wilde is spot on as James Hunt’s wife.
Serious consideration for “Best Supporting Actress” should be given to Alexandra Maria Lara for playing the role of Lauda’s wife. Alexandra Maria Lara is silent but strong during adversity and tragedy, yet she remains sensual and is a calming force. She is the winner in the end.
The heart of Morgan’s story is the rivalry between Hunt and Lauda to be the best in their sport and win the F1 Championship; each has their own unique style. Playboy driver Hunt is played perfectly by Chris Hemsworth. Hunt is a man absolutely willing to die on the track to win and who lives even more reckless off the track.
The casting is exceptional throughout but the choice of Daniel Brul (with an umlaut over the u) was brilliant, as is his performance as F1 World Champion Niki Lauda. Mr. Brul deserves a nomination for his depiction of a complex man, ever calculating and perhaps until now misunderstood champion. Brul’s performance will also be remembered for how we are able to warm up to Lauda’s manner.
Austrian by birth Lauda has a drive to succeed that is unmatched by his fellow top drivers. Lauda takes every bit of his God given ability and finds ways to maximize it in what he is best suited for F1, the elite level of motor racing. He has even calculated his risk of death to be 20%. Lauda is willing to chance his life at 20% but we learn not a single percentage point beyond.
Lauda is best at finding a edge over the competition at every level, design, weight, drag coefficient and tolerating pain… Lauda’s best strength though is his will. He is stronger willed than the competition and is the upmost logical about every decision he makes. We get words of wisdom from him as well as examples of how to race to win and live to tell about it. With all this going for him Lauda is respected but not liked by the fellow drivers, so states Hunt. I appreciate that Lauda retains a “Gentlemen Racer” attitude but he backs down to no one.
I know this era well having taken part by covering the first Formula 5000 and F1 Grand Prix of Long Beach for magazine. By the time the McLaren team was racing at Long Beach in 1982 and 1983 I was with Jaguar Cars Inc. as West Coast Advertising &PR Mgr. Thanks to Leyland Bus & Truck, Jaguar was a sponsor of the Williams Team winner Alan Jones in 1981 and 1982 & 1983 a sponsor of the McLaren Team.
At Long Beach in 1982 Niki Lauda won with his McLaren MP4/1B-Ford with teammate John Watson finishing sixth. For 1983 veteran John Watson won in the McLaren MP4/1C-Ford and Lauda finished second in his MP4. During these years as a sponsor we had “meet the driver” events that I put on at local restaurants, affording all of us one on one time with the drivers. The film depicts how Lauda was always seeking an edge, ones that eventually got adopted into the sport, at this period he had found a new edge. As part of his intense training and conditioning he now had a regimented diet.
Lauda was not fond of these types of events so my time with him was brief but positive. I had longer conversations with teammate John Watson who spoke of the planned meals Lauda ate three times a day, prepared by the team nutritionist for him. Watson was on it too but only for one meal a day. It’s common these days, but for the time Lauda once again was a pioneer. The competition between the cars and drivers was extremely close, so any edge counts. Given the rigors of the sport it was conditioning that would help make enough of a difference for Lauda to repeat as a World Champion after 1975 again in 1977 and 1984.
Rush 123 min
Director: Ron Howard