Before Rush, I didn’t recognise the names James Hunt or Niki Lauda. I possess no interest in Formula One and don’t own a driver’s license. Yet, the racing scenes in the second half of Rush are truly thrilling and had my heart, er, racing.
James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a dashing rock star who uses celebrity status and luscious locks to sleep with attractive strangers on planes. Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), however, is moody, insecure and awkwardly gruff. Their parallel struggles in life make passable entertainment, but the real drama starts on the road: the cars turn from metal into metaphorical vehicles for their psychological battles.
The 1976 World Championship was particularly significant for a life-threatening injury sustained by Lauda, who returned six weeks later with a disfigured face. The road becomes an extension for masculinity (even more than usual) while the two rivals playfully bicker; at the risk of death, they’d rather win a few points.
The adrenaline rush (!) of the racing scenes must be credited to screenwriter Peter Morgan for fleshing out Hunt and Lauda. He subtly foreshadows their racing philosophies through early behaviour. For instance, Hunt’s womanising (he calls his divorce the “win of my career”) precedes a driving style that’s bold and reckless. Lauda is the meticulous alternative who over-prepares and is anxious about worst-case scenarios. When he continues to drive after the accident, it’s honking the horn in the face of Formula One’s shallow machismo. Under careful guidance, Ron Howard’s direction finds poetry in cars spinning circles on a single track.
The screenplay unfortunately doesn’t find much time for anyone else. One female model sums it up by rhyming “joy” with “boy” and “toy” when admiring one of the vehicles. Almost every woman in Rush is a one-dimensional sympathiser, or an air hostess opting to join the Mile High Club.
One explanation is that the drivers prioritise the finish line over loved ones, and sometimes the notion of being alive. When Hunt’s wife leaves him for Richard Burton, the Welsh actor barely makes an appearance; the film’s not interested, and can’t even see the gossip in the rear-view mirror. Why focus on scandal anyway? After all, Lauda, the “sensible” driver, says he’s willing to drive with 20% chance of death, but not 1% more. Now that’s a statistic worth placing on the posters.
United States of America
123 mins approx
Alexandra Maria Lara