REVIEW BY BURL BURLINGAME / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Director Ron Howard pulls off a pretty neat dramatic switcheroo in “Rush.” He presents us two characters in fierce competition, one a golden god with easy social graces, the other a repellent Ratso who smells of weedy alienation — and by the end of the film, we’re rooting for Ratso. Heroism, it seems, is more than skin deep.
The story is a true one, a mostly forgotten racing rivalry from 1976, a year in which Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda were neck-and-neck right up to the last sprint of the season, a terrifying scramble in the driving rain around Mount Fuji. The two of them could not be more dissimilar — except in their mania to win — with Hunt an elegant, charming and unashamedly hedonistic Englishman, and Lauda an Austrian sour apple completely lacking in people skills.
Both of them were winners, taking their roaring F1 vehicles right to the edge of disaster on every lap.
In that era, Formula One was essentially the provence of gentlemen sports enthusiasts. Hunt and Lauda’s professional rivalry was legendary, but is the movie accurate in portraying it as deeply personal? We won’t ever know for sure, but Peter Morgan’s screenplay makes the tale universal by making the understory a parable of how competition sharpens the personality. You are graded by the quality of your enemies, it seems.
The story races forward in canny bits that are revealing without being overly clever: Hunt’s nervous retching before a race, Lauda’s technical and mechanical brilliance, their unlikely and unhealthy relationships with women, a bantering roundelay about racing philosophy as Lauda and Hunt examine a corporate jet.
Even if you care nothing about car racing, the story will sweep you along. It’s not about car racing. It’s about how we intersect with humans whose lives and values are different than ours, and how that can be valuable. It ain’t the finish line, it’s the scramble to get there.
Howard has always had a muscular way with directing action sequences, and “Rush” is full of roar. And a quick Googling reveals that Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Lauda are dead ringers for their historic characters. They’re both very good in their roles.
Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s wife Suzy doesn’t fare as well. She’s treated as an afterthought and a prop, but deliberately so, because that’s what Hunt needed her for. The real Suzy ran off with actor Richard Burton during one of his vacations from Elizabeth Taylor. It is to “Rush’s” great credit that that nearly irresistible piece of Hollywood soap opera doesn’t become more than a footnote here.