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13th September 2013

Ron Howard

Niki & James

123 Minutes

15

Si

2nd September 2013

UK Release

Director

Starring

Runtime

Certificate

Reviewer

Reviewed

Ah, we love Ron Howard. A truly versatile individual, seemingly able to turn his hand to whatever he wants. Acting, directing, writing, producing. Damn him. Needless to say we had high expectations for his latest.

Rush tells the mostly true story (and it is pretty much the real thing) of the Formula 1 rivalry of Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Two drivers who probably caught the sport at its most exciting. And by that, I mean most dangerous. I’m not an F1 fan. I know next to nothing about the sport, beyond wondering why thousands of people turn up to watch a blur whizz past every now and again and generally the same people winning. But you don’t need to know anything about F1 to enjoy this film. You don’t even need to like F1. Howard has taken the bare bones of the story and rounded it off where necessary and presumably embellished it slightly but not to the point where you’d object to calling this a ‘true story’. And it’s important to remember how close to the truth this is. I really wanted to avoid saying that you really couldn’t make this story up but it’s so accurate, I’m going to have to say it. If you presented this at a script meeting, even the most hardened Hollywood producer would reject it as being too fanciful. It’s that true.

I’m going to save you some time now, in case you’re busy and want to get on with your day, I LOVED this film. It’s a superb piece of work, probably Howard’s best and certainly one of the best films I’ve seen in recent years. There, now if you want to rush (ho-ho and apologies) out and see it, you can. Otherwise, I’ll tell you why I loved it below.

The plot follows the 1976 F1 season which goes down to the wire, mostly due to Lauda’s crash at the Nürburgring (an unbelievably dangerous track, even by F1 standards) where he received horrific burns when his fuel tank was punctured in atrocious driving conditions. We follow both Hunt and Lauda in turns, dipping into their personalities and life outside racing in order to probe their motivations. Lauda is the son of a wealthy Austrian family whose father effectively disowns him when he expresses the desire to be a racer. He is methodical, intelligent and almost supernaturally adept with a car, both in driving and crucially, in setting up the car pre-race. Hunt was the son of a wealthy stockbroker, an original rebel who smoked, drank, charmed and womanised his way through life. But he was also a supremely naturally gifted racing driver. In other words, two perfect personalities for a film about rivals.

Howard spares us absolutely nothing in terms of the race action. Immaculately filmed by Anthony Dod Mantle, capturing both the time period and the sheer visceral explosion of 70’s Formula 1 racing, I came out of the screening feeling as if I’d been dragged around a race track in a dangerously out of date car. Tyres scream in your face, gravel spits out of the wonderfully 2D screen (seriously 3D, take a look at this film for definitive proof that you are utterly redundant), fire belches at you and water (both sweat and rain) glistens in front of your eyes. Never for a second do you think you’re not watching live race footage, it’s just that immersive.

None of which would matter of course were the leads not strong. They are both perfectly cast. In some ways Daniel Bruhl got the short straw here. Made up with a distinct over-bite and spending a fair piece of the movie under heavy injury prothesis, he’s not really a looker in the film. But on the other hand, it’s a toss up as to which is the more mesmerising personality. For me, Bruhl’s Lauda probably just shades it. Bruhl’s utterly controlled and measured performance is spot on, showing the meticulous Lauda as both party pooper and clandestine show-off (witness him driving a car that rescues him and his eventual wife from a breakdown). The absolutely brutal scenes of Lauda’s recovery are almost unwatchably good. Howard spares no detail, in particular with the lung vacuuming scene but it’s Bruhl that keeps our eyes fixed on the screen.

None of the above is to diminish Hemsworth’s part in this. His magnetic good looks and easy charm are ideally suited to portraying Hunt at the peak of his conquests (on all fronts) but he also manages to convey the angst, fear and dedication (or obsession) that Hunt possessed (shown well where Hunt lies in a garage, meticulously memorising a track). It’s really difficult now trying to think of a more suitable actor to play the role.

The supporting cast are all wonderful, particularly the wives (Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s first wife Suzy and Alexandra Maria Lara as Lauda’s) who do struggle to find room on screen alongside the main leads, but to be fair, it’s definitely the boys’ film. A plethora of English actors crop up as Hunt’s various team members and add a good, nicely balanced range of eccentricities to the proceedings.

Ultimately this film is about two people, excelling and obsessing in a sport they were both seemingly born to compete in. It’s hugely serendipitous that they came together at the same time as their rivalry provides a superb view into just how driven (no pun intended) these people needed to be to be the best in F1 during this time period. Rivals being friends / causing each other heartache / hugely respecting each other / ultimately admitting that one is less without the other is an admittedly worn concept, it's been done in number of movies but I've never seen it this compelling.

 Nothing I write here will come anywhere near conveying the sheer experience of seeing this film. And it is an experience. It needs to be seen on the big screen and the bigger you can find the better. You will come out exhausted and exhilarated in equal measure. Rush is an astonishing film. It is a brutally visceral trip through the minds of two of racing’s most naturally talented drivers at a time when people drove cars, rather than computers.

Check out the trailer here.

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