(NEW YORK) -- Auto racing fans are undoubtedly familiar with the legendary rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The beauty of director Ron Howard’s Rush is you need not know anything about them, or the 1976 season in which this movie is set, to enjoy the film. In fact, had screenwriter Peter Morgan invented this story, it still would be an impressive piece of cinema.
British driver Hunt, played by the uber-charismatic Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers), isn’t just a gifted driver, he’s also a cocky playboy with an insatiable appetite for sex and partying. Austrian-born Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is the polar opposite. He looks a bit like a rat, so much so that Hunt nicknames Lauda “Rat.” Lauda's also a technical genius who believes in practice and taking care of himself.
These two instantly hate each other when they meet for the first time during a lower circuit race in which Hunt cuts off Lauda, who in turn confronts Hunt after the race, accusing him of acting recklessly. And thus the rivalry begins.
In the first half of the picture, most people will be won over by Hunt’s charm and put off by Lauda’s cold, calculating personality. While they're physical and emotional opposites, it turns out Hunt and Lauda really aren't that different. They both have daddy issues but more significantly, they both live to risk their lives racing cars. Lauda in particular, after finding love, learns a very hard lesson -- one of which anyone familiar with his history is aware -- turning him into a more sympathetic character.
Writer Peter Morgan’s script is sublime. He takes a story that, in some cases, could have been difficult and boring, and has turned it into something anyone can understand, without talking down to the audience. Better yet, you never really know who to root for. While that sort of ambiguity can sometimes be confusing and detract from the conflict that drives a story, it only enhances Rush by compelling us to feel for both drivers. These two men push each other, perhaps in a way any two competitors have never before pushed each other. Casting Hemsworth and Bruhl as Hunt and Lauda may have been the two best decisions Ron Howard and company made. Their performances are remarkable, particularly Bruhl's, which will leave you with a lump in your throat.
I haven’t even gotten to the extraordinary racing scenes and the technical wizardry it took to create them. Howard doesn’t just put you in a Formula One car, you feel as if you are in a Formula One car.
Rush is Howard’s most complete work. It is exhilarating, thrilling, often makes you laugh and might just break your heart while ultimately provoking thoughts about the human spirit.
Five out of five stars.
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