Rush is told from the perspective of a pair of duelling narrators. It’s this minor touch which says all about Ron Howard’s latest picture, which tells the tale of the 1976 Formula 1 season. It’s a story concerned with, to use an awful cliche, different sides of the same coin. Racing drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt are kindred spirits split by a fierce rivalry. Both stem from disaffected familial backgrounds, having shorn any semblance of inherited responsibility in favour of pursuing a dream captured in the fast lane, with this shared target the very thing that stands between the pair. While internally soul-mates, superficially they couldn’t be further at odds. One, Hunt, is the archetypical international playboy, introduced to the audience whilst seducing a nurse healing wounds garnered from the scorned husband of an earlier conquest, while the other, Lauda, is a motivated professional, and favours his racing technique ahead of almost everything else in life.
In reality Lauda and Hunt were good friends, and even shared a modest, one-bedroom flat early in their careers. It’s interesting (not to mention disappointing) then, that Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan chose instead to subvert this area of the pair’s relationship, separating the two to infer a fiercer rivalry than was apparently the case, presumably for dramatic gains. These small contrivances certainly create a more dynamic story, but in turn one can’t help but feel as though it comes at the sacrifice of characterisation, with the characters transformed in to cliche-driven vessels. It’s even arguable that the story would have benefited had the film addressed the notion that they were as great friends outside of the sport as they were fierce rivals on the track.
Historical bent aside, it’s clear that Howard has a real affinity for the subject at hand. Alongside cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, Howard really manages to capture the feeling and the essence of the sport at this time. It was a harsh, unforgiving world, which claimed the lives of many, and the moderately innovative camerawork, which projects the innards of the vehicle of choice on-screen, acts as a neat visual re-rendering of the very specific tone of the sport. The intensity of the film’s centre-piece crash sequence is a highlight of realistic horror in recent middle-brow cinema, while the film’s final act set-piece, set in a rain-soaked Japan, is as beautiful and beguiling a sequence seen in a sports film since Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.