Review: Rush (2013)

Ron Howard shifts the biopic genre into another gear with the thrilling Rush, the story of the F1 1970's rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

Rush is a Chris Hemsworth’s film. The trailer and theatrical poster proclaim this to be. Yet halfway through, you realise it isn’t at all. In spite of taking a break from the world of superheroes to flex his acting muscles as real-life F1 playboy James Hunt, it is Daniel Brühl, playing his rival Niki Lauda, who absolutely steals his thunder. And that’s not the only surprise this has to offer.

When it comes to true stories, particularly sporting ones, the subject matter certainly influences the decision whether to watch it or not. This is true for Rush. But, like the documentary Senna, you can be enthralled by the man rather than the machine.

And here we have two men; Brit James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda. Charting their rise from Formula 3 – personally and professionally – each man takes a different path and lifestyle along the way in trying to attain the F1 championship in 1976. The title seems a shoo-in for Hunt when Lauda suffers a horrific accident, but against the odds Lauda battles back to leave it until the final race to see who is crowned champion.

While being a platform for Hemsworth to show he can act – and he does surprisingly well – it’s Brühl who takes centre stage.  He’s always had this in him ever since his breakout role in Good Bye Lenin!, but somehow recognition has eluded him. There’s been fleeting Hollywood success in The Bourne Ultimatum and Inglourious Basterds, but his spot-on portrayal of Lauda should finally put him on the map. Even if you don’t know Lauda’s mannerisms or accent (which Brühl nailed, anyway), his acting is exemplary.

Alongside the performances, Ron Howard makes up for his rotten last outing, The Dilemma.  A triumphant return doing what he does best: the re-telling of true stories. He thrives on turning them into gripping nail-biters. Much like Frost/Nixon, the rivalry here may not have been as evident as it was at the time, but enough for him to use as a basis for the battle between two different types of personalities. Visually, he brings Formula 1 in the 70s to startling life thanks to the superb attention to detail and magnificent driving sequences. Topped off by Hans Zimmer’s thunderous score, you have the all the ingredients of a truly great film.

So why no Oscar nods? Ok, there is some hammy acting from the British contingent (ahem, Stephen Mangan), and Olivia Wilde, as Hunt’s wife Suzy Miller, hasn’t got much to do. But maybe it’s because Formula 1 is not a sport loved in the US. Whatever the reason, to overlook Brühl in the best supporting actor category is a travesty. He may not have beaten Michael Fassbender or Jared Leto for 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club respectively, but to not even get nominated is extraordinary.

But continuing the praise, Rush is a cinematic sporting masterpiece, delivering on all fronts with a gripping and emotional look at an intriguing rivalry. You don’t have to like, or even care about, Formula 1 to be captivated by two polar opposites. While Hemsworth may be the poster boy, it’s Brühl that accelerates this into a must-see biopic.

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