Ron Howard’s latest film, Rush, paints a detailed portrait of the dangerous world of Formula One racing. The film delivers on many levels as an exciting and thrilling portrayal of not only car racing, but also of an intense rivalry and respect between British driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), and the Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). The film is an exceptional one, and Ron Howard’s directing acumen pays off in many ways throughout the film.
In many sports films, the stakes are simply about winning and losing, victory and defeat. In Formula One racing, competition is as fierce as in any other sport, but the stakes are so much more – the knowledge that at any moment a driver can spin out of control, that they are risking their life every moment that they compete, instantly elevates danger to a new level. Rush uses the framework of the sport to tell a story about the ways in which humans risk their lives to achieve something great, and Ron Howard’s direction taps into this spirit very well. Even those who are familiar with the history of the true figures and events depicted in the film will find themselves on the edge of their seats, regardless of whatever previous knowledge they bring to the viewing experience.
The performances delivered by the lead actors do a lot of heavy lifting in elevating the film. Chris Hemsworth delivers a strong performance as the cocky, larger-than-life James Hunt, with a balance of both comic and dramatic sensibilities. However, the real revelation of the film is Brühl’s performance as Niki Lauda. Brühl deserves nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for what can only be described as a breakout performance – charming and charismatic, stealing every scene he appears in.
Where the film struggles is in its development of the life of James Hunt outside the racing world. In particular, Olivia Wilde’s performance as model (and Hunt’s eventual wife), Suzy Miller, seems to have been largely left on the cutting room floor. The character could have been removed entirely from the film, with little to no effect on the plot.
With that said, Rush is a stellar film by Ron Howard, and it will enthrall both fans of the sport as well as newcomers to racing and Formula One. In a crowded slate of award-worthy films this fall, Rush may be overshadowed, but those who overlook it will miss out on a great film.