Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
‘Rush’, the latest effort from director Ron Howard, was infamously not picked up by Universal Studios, and he had to dig back into his trenches to develop this film independently.
Now, it all seems to have paid off.
This isn't just a mightily magnificent sports film, it is also one of Howard's finest and most exciting in sometime, after flops such as ‘The Dilemma’ (2011) and ‘Angels & Demons’ (2009).
This “period” piece takes us back to the 1970s, when Formula One racing wasn't even remotely safe.
As the opening narration from Daniel Bruhl would darkly state, almost two men would die from the sport every year back then.
The movie centres on the true story of two drivers: Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Bruhl), the birth of their rivalry, and the culmination of it during the wild 1976 Formula One season.
'Rush' is based on the true story of Formula One racers James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Bruhl)
The two men could not be more different.
Hunt could be described as a playboy, fearless, the life of the party, eccentric, smooth-talking, talented.
Lauda was known to be methodical, analytical, blunt, and understated.
These two polar opposites, chasing the same thing – the thrill of cheating death and ultra competitive one-upmanship on the track – makes for a very compelling story, tracing them from amateur Formula Three drivers to their duels on the world famous Grand Prix tracks.
Hemsworth is convincing as the free-wheeling Hunt, an-almost damaged soul who cares only about having a good time and driving is what he does best.
He wears his emotions clearly on his sleeve (or underpants), and it is a huge credit to Hemsworth's performance that he manages to bring out a subtle, underlying sadness to the character.
The rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda is F1's greatest
Stealing the show though, is Bruhl, who portrays Lauda with a quiet steely determination. The more interesting of the two, Lauda is enigmatic and distant. His demons are internalised and may be seen only in flashes.
Many scenes with the two leads butting heads are giggle-worthy, with Hunt's wit and Lauda's bluntness taking centrestage.
Director Howard's strength has always been his populist style of filmmaking, appealing to both casual and serious filmgoers. Here, he combines the accessibility of the film's core with some slick production values to craft a beast that looks and sound terrific.
The sound design is particularly impressive – the engines roar when they should and often, loudly.
Howard seems re-energised by a story that he clearly loves. Every race sequence spills kinetic energy, whether it is a fast shot of the drivers in their cockpits, the pistons in the engine moving, or the blabber of sports commentators.
Word is that cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (‘127 Hours’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’) installed more than 36 cameras for the race scenes, some mounted on cars and even helmets, and the up-close effects shine through.
Even though some fans already know the ending, there is a feeling that you are not really sure what is going to happen next, along with a looming sense of danger.
Much like what he did in ‘Apollo 13’ or ‘Frost/Nixon’, which were also set in the 1970s, Howard balances this stirring action cinema with the complexities of the relationships among the characters.
‘Rush’ is a finely crafted sports film that is exciting, oddly grand yet intimate. This is one movie to break out the champagne for everyone.
‘Rush’ opens in cinemas 26 September 2013