Rush five years on: As good as sports movies can get
Rush, the movie about the lives and rivalry of F1 legends Niki Lauda and James Hunt, was released five years ago this week to critical acclaim, and time has been kind to it. It remains a high watermark in the sports biopic genre.
Making a sports film is not straightforward. It's easy to get the action all wrong, or embellish the attributes of the protagonists to a cartoonish degree, particularly in dealing with real people. But none of that is necessary in the case of Lauda and Hunt; their acidic relationship was genuine (though they would eventually become friends) and the story of that improbable 1976 world championship just needed to be told.
What Rush and director Ron Howard achieved was simple - take what was a fundamentally fascinating juxtaposition of characters and give the viewer the feeling of speed, of intensity and of sheer danger. As any F1 fan knows, the safety regulations put in place post-Ayrton Senna laid the foundations of a sport where the welfare of the drivers was made a priority. Back in the 1970's this, unfortunately, was never the case, and Howard's skill is to put you right in the middle of that peril.
Put this movie on loud, and on as big a screen as possible, and the racing segments will not leave you disappointed. It's a visceral experience; you can feel the vibrations bounding through the vehicles, the spray of the rain splashing off the visor, and the precariousness of every overtaking manoeuvre.
Some may regard this as a simpler time, when the requisite skills of the drivers outweighed the strengths of the relatively evenly-matched cars. In 1976, twelve different drivers secured podium finishes in the sixteen-race calendar, while there was a minimum of five retirements in every outing such was the lack of reliability in the cars. It was exciting, sure, but it was also spectacularly dangerous. As, of course, Lauda would find out.
And Howard is able to balance the bravery (and, in some cases, stupidity) of the drivers, refusing to submit to a rose-tinted view of the era but also express the folly of the conditions the drivers were subjected to. The action is utterly relentless, but the danger is always present. You don't envy these men roaring around in cars and tracks laughably unfit to protect them.
The film also massively benefits from perfect casting. Daniel Bruhl transforms into Lauda, with and without prosthetics, he is able to take on his mannerisms and curt personality, while Chris Hemsworth is Hunt's playboy, magnetic, charismatic and, in the car at least, completely fearless. You can't imagine anyone else in these roles and it's to their credit that their performances also showcase their foibles as well as their strengths.
Lauda's determination to return from such a devastating injury - harrowingly displayed here - but have the sense of perspective to sacrifice the championship in protection of his life in the final, sodden race in Japan, is the perfect ending to the film. It ensures everything is relative, that these men thrived from the competition with one another but, by the end of that season, came the realisation that some things, like life itself are more important. And it becomes all the more poignant now, with Hunt being taken all too soon, while Lauda remains in hospital following an emergency lung operation.
Lauda has since said that he wished Hunt had been alive to see the result of their careers on screen and you can understand why - imagine watching all of your achievements played out in front of you on the big screen. But it's also because Rush is a film that will endure, and indeed become more appreciated as time passes. Watch just to experience motor racing displayed like never before on film, but stay for the relationship between two of the most complex and talented individuals ever to get behind the wheel.
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