Niki Lauda: Daniel Brühl
Marlene Lauda: Alexandra Maria Lara
Suzy Miller: Olivia Wilde
Lord Hesketh: Christian McKay
Clay Regazzoni: Pierfrancesco Favino
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Ron Howard. Written by Peter Morgan. Running time: 123 min. Rated R (for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images, and brief drug use).
I’m not much of a car man, although I do watch “Top Gear” whenever I have a lazy Saturday afternoon to waste, but that’s more for the entertainment of it’s manboy hosts. I really don’t know much about car racing. I know NASCAR is pretty big stuff in the Kansas City area. I know nothing about the Formula One circuit. The new movie “Rush” isn’t exactly the best learning tool for the uninitiated, but it does tell the story of one of the sport’s biggest rivalries from the 70s between Austrian Niki Lauda and British driver James Hunt.
The movie is told from both drivers’ perspectives. It centers on Hunt’s championship run during the 1976 circuit and the Lauda crash that opened the door for Hunt’s big win. The two men are depicted here as polar opposites. Hunt is a risk taker, living life to its fullest. He pushes his personal life as hard and fast as he does his car on the track. Lauda approaches his profession as a business. He buys his way onto the Formula One circuit, but earns his place there by rebuilding the cars to run better and faster.
There’s a particularly enlightening scene about Lauda, which also involves how he met and courted his wife. He is not a well-liked person because he sees no gain in manipulating people to like him. He’s leaving a party where he’s been kicked out by the fellow Ferrari teammate who invited him. He meets the beautiful woman who will become his wife. She gives him a lift. He starts the relationship out by insulting her car. She has no idea he’s a famous racecar driver. After her car breaks down, they hitch a ride, but not based on her looks as she assumes at first, rather based on his fame. She has trouble believing this mousy, unflashy, unlikeable man who drives like a grandmother could be a famous Formula One racer. He explains that there are risks with driving fast and they are not worth taking without any viable reward. She tells him he should drive fast because she has asked him to do so. Suddenly, Lauda sees a reward to showing off his driving skills.
Hunt’s personal life is more like a rock star’s. He sleeps with a different woman every night. He wins awards and promises to send them to his father, who wanted him to be a doctor. He drinks and does drugs. Everything he does is for the rush and the fun of it. When he finally enters the Formula One circuit, his team encourages him to change his ways, some of which he does. His marriage to glamour model Suzy Miller is an attempt to conform, but it lacks the passion he has for the racetrack.
The stars look remarkably like their real life counterparts. Chris Hemsworth, best known as Thor from the Marvel Comics Avengers movies, is just as physically desirable as his profession is dangerous. It’s easy to accept him as the protagonist. German actor Daniel Brühl has the more difficult task of making the rather unlikeable Lauda into an equally viable hero. Although the two are rivals, this is both their stories and the audience is required to get behind each of them. Lauda’s role is more completely developed by giving us a clearer view into his analytical and precise psyche.
The screenplay by scribe Peter Morgan (“The Queen”, “Frost/Nixon”) fleshes out the rivalry very well. It’s a little light on other details about the men’s lives. Hunt’s relationship with his wife seems swept over to give just the highlights of their initial meeting and their high profile breakup when she left him for Richard Burton. Interestingly enough, Burton never appears in the film as a character. Morgan keeps the action firmly planted in the Formula One world with absolutely no venturing into the world outside of the racing circuit.
It really is the racing sequences that drive this particular vehicle. Director Ron Howard obviously spent most of his efforts on depicting spectacular races that capture the adrenaline rush that fuels the need for these men to risk their lives for their chosen profession. Howard uses a very grainy film stock and Mark Digby’s expert production design to faithfully recreate the 70s atmosphere in which this story takes place. He uses camera angles on the track that I’ve never seen in racing films before, placing the audience so close to the tires of the vehicles that we can practically feel the breeze as the cars blow past on the screen. He also uses extreme close ups on the drivers’ eyes to capture their sense of focus and the claustrophobic nature of their working environment.