My Dad got me into watching Formula 1 when I was a kid. It was when the Ayrton Senna/ Alain Prost rivalry dominated the sport and while I enjoyed watching the races, got a buzz from the speed and the power of the cars, it was their personalities and their on-off track sparring that really got me hooked (and made me and my Dad shout at the TV on Sunday afternoons.)
The tools used to tell the story were what you’d expect from a biopic: backstories relayed in a combination of flashback, voiceover and montage (but then, who doesn’t love a good montage?). Both drivers came from wealthy families, both rebelled; both had big ambitions and struggled to rise up the ranks of motor racing to achieve them. What really elevated the film was the fascinating contrast between the two characters and how well the actors portrayed them, and, of course, the racing sequences.
Chris Hemsworth arguably had a simpler role to play with James Hunt – a swaggering, larger than life, likeable playboy – all blond hair, bare feet and charm. But he did it extremely well. For me Daniel Bruhl was exceptional as the self-contained, driven, frequently blunt and difficult-to-like Lauda. Despite his unlikeability (if that’s even a word) he moved me and in many ways, by the end of the film, he was the driver I was rooting for.
The supporting cast is good (I was very impressed by Olivia Wilde’s English accent as James Hunt’s first wife, Suzy Miller) but they are pretty much that: support for the 2 leads. Both Hunt and Lauda display different kinds of strength and courage as the drama escalates and it’s their polar opposite natures that drive the film and give it real substance and emotional punch.
For a film about Grand Prix motor racing clearly the racing sequences had to be good and they were as exhilarating as I’d hoped they’d be. Inventive and unexpected camera angles (inside drivers’ helmets, following wheel nuts onto tyres during pit changes), screaming engines and a top soundtrack (Hans Zimmer – the man’s a genius) totally captured the adrenaline rush of motor racing. You’ll either come out desperate to drive a McLaren at top speed or convinced that anyone who does is a nutter with a deathwish.
Lauda’s horrific near-fatal accident during the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, in which he was severely burnt and inhaled toxic gases, was brilliantly done and uncomfortable to watch. Possibly even more disturbing were the scenes of his recovery as he was subjected to brutal medical procedures to vacuum his lungs – all while watching Hunt winning races and points in the driver’s championship. His return to racing just 6 weeks later is inspiring and moving. Powerful stuff.
Watching this film was an intense and genuinely emotional experience. More than anything it conjured up a strong nostalgia for the 1970s. For me that decade was chiefly a time of alarming knitwear and even more alarming facial hair on the adults around me but Ron Howard made it feel like a time of possibility, spontaneity and innocence: a time to jump in with both feet and see what happened. That feeling stayed with me a long time after I left the cinema.
Rush provided plenty of action but with enough substance to make this film much more than the sum of its parts.