By Tom Demerly.
Ron Howard’s RUSH is solidly one of the greatest films ever made, and perhaps the single best sporting film ever. It delivers you to the winner’s circle of epic excitement with intimate drama between iconic heroes.
There are two kinds of human contests: racing and warfare. What Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan did for drama and war, RUSH does for racing. There has never been a film this distinctly excellent and theatrical about any kind of sport. RUSH follows the story of racing rivals Niki Lauda, an exacting Austrian with the precise demeanor of an engineer and the wildly contrasting playboy Englishman James Hunt, his nemesis in the 1976 Formula 1 racing season.
Formula 1 is theater and RUSH is theater about theater. RUSH mainlines the classic themes of drama: danger, love, envy, loss, fear and redemption. It does so with excellent technical authenticity and careful reverence- albeit some historical license. And despite some heavy-handed sepia toning and a lack of real on-track camera work RUSH touches the hot buttons of F1 with incredible sound, vertiginous special effects and visuals. Because RUSH is a film for technical freaks (but not to the exclusion of all others) there is careful attention to on-track technical accuracy. But in the great craft of making movies for everyone in the audience Howard has built a film that will also thrill your wife or girlfriend.
RUSH moderates the pacing of on track action and back-story drama with seamless dexterity, a remarkable feat for the writing and editing crew. The movie is beautifully paced and builds to a massive climax then settles with an absolute masterpiece epilogue.
An intricate part of RUSH is the remarkable casting. Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda are so precisely cast they interchange almost seamlessly with footage of the real Hunt and Lauda toward the end of the film.
The vintage feel of RUSH, while a bit overdone, does trace the beginnings of the modern age of Formula 1 with fairytale quality. You see it as we remember it, in grainy flashbacks and muted hues. The frightening accident sequences depict the time dilation you’ll recognize from any car accident you’ve been in. If you have ever raced anything this movie is mainlining adrenaline.
An integral part of the movie and one of the key layers is Lauda dealing with fear after his crash and moderating the adversarial relationship with Hunt. Both these themes thread the perfect tapestry through Ron Howard’s masterful direction and Peter Morgan’s fine script writing. The themes are reinforced with a bit of fiction though. The punch-up between Hunt and a reporter never happened. Some aspects of Hunt and Lauda’s face offs are more directly attributed to them than they were recorded in real life. It isn’t documentary, but it is great storytelling. Each theme is executed with craft and elegance missing from all but the greatest movies. RUSH is a masterpiece that transcends filmmaking eras it is so perfect.
Ron Howard is lucky to have such an incredible, true drama as the conflict between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in 1976. He does not squander the gift of this story in RUSH. For those looking to RUSH as an inspirational tale pray to God we all have a James Hunt to our Niki Lauda.
While RUSH stops just short of being a perfect movie due to the overused film toning and a lack of real on-track camera work it is over the top as a perfect drama and amazing human story. The combination works like no other sports movie I’ve seen. If you don’t’ get a rush from RUSH you belong in a morgue.