I absolutely love how Ron Howard can direct a film like The Dilemma, which wasn’t exactly adored by critics, but then bounce back without batting an eye.
As if seeing Howard’s comedic role in this year’s re-launch of Arrested Development wasn’t enough, his newest directorial effort, Rush, is a magnificent, fast-paced thrill ride wrapped around an intriguing true story. I’m no Formula 1 enthusiast, with my knowledge not reaching far past the name Mario Andretti, but Howard’s focused vision paired with Peter Morgan’s deliciously interesting screenplay opened a world full of adrenaline junkies and pride validation, also laying strong groundwork for stars Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth. Rush is a fast and furious biopic that exposes two very different approaches to the world of high-speed racing, one that’s both informative and undeniably enjoyable, providing another remarkable highlight on Ron Howard’s resume.
Telling the story of Austrian Formula 1 racer Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and his rival James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), Rush is about two hopeful Formula drivers looking to someday become World Champion. Starting out in Formula 3, the drivers attempt to work their way up the ladder as most other drivers had done, but when Niki essentially buys himself into the Formula 1 league, Hunt follows suit. Taking the world by storm, their history sparks a fierce competition between the two, especially because of their clashing personalities. Niki disapproves of Hunt’s party-hearty mentality, while Hunt mocks Lauda for being hated by most drivers – but both men still fight for that Championship with the same passion. On one fateful race day though, Niki Lauda is involved in a horrible wreck that leaves his body charred and covered in burns, almost costing him his life and sidelining him from racing altogether. With Hunt gaining ground on Niki’s points lead, Lauda is forced to watch his Championship slowly slip away, but is determined to return and secure his second World Championship – no matter what it takes.
Rush is essentially a phenomenal balancing act that runs the highs and lows of a thrill-seeking lifestyle, exposing James Hunt’s playboy mannerisms with both jovial fun and dark truths, but also reveals the sad and ambitious nature of Niki Lauda’s horrific accident. As it’s said over and over again, you’d have to be insane to jump at the chance to kill yourself for a living, yet both Hunt and Lauda repeatedly stare death in the face, willingly. Howard’s film is just as much a character study about the psyche of a man who puts his life on the line every day for his passion, also providing different interpretations on the matter. Be it Hunt’s blind ambition that presents a cocky, uncontrollable urge to win at any costs, showing him as the fun-loving, pretty boy hero, or Lauda’s technical prowess and enviable intelligence that lets him deduce there’s a 20% chance he’ll die that day, both men are simply getting off on the adrenaline, as flying around the Formula 1 track gives them a purpose for living.
The film’s tagline, “Everyone’s driven by something,” only perpetuates Hunt and Lauda’s dangerous hunger for legendary immortality, and truly enters a part of human nature that some of us posses and others don’t. In all honesty, you don’t see 9-5 desk workers putting their lives on the line for the company they work for, yet because someone like James Hunt is living for himself, the risk of death doesn’t outweigh the popularity high that comes along with massive parties, model girlfriends, and tabloid recognition. It takes a special breed of person to accept a lifestyle so reckless and relentlessly nerve-racking, but the high is also incomparable – how bad do you want it?
Howard provides a glimpse into these two character’s mindsets with such excitement, but also addresses their flawed nature to bring out their human sides as well. James Hunt may be perfect celebrity material on the outside, and his relationship with model girlfriend Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) was a tad underdeveloped, but this showed Hunt at his lowest. When facing defeat and the possibility of never driving again, Hunt spun out of control and lost all restraint, again showing the type of person who always needs some kind of rush to keep their lives in balance.
Lauda on the other hand is more driven by the success, and calculates risks with more gravity than Hunt – but still valued the race equally. His accident should have kept him out of racing months longer than it did, as Lauda’s recovery was aided by Hunt’s climbing of the points ladder. For every race Niki couldn’t compete with James Hunt in, that was one more reason to get back on the track. Lauda’s story is one of perseverance, will-power, and unparalleled dedication, as his rivalry with Hunt may just have saved his life. Niki Lauda knocked on death’s door, then got right back into the situation that almost ended his life, only to find continued success through a journey that’s both inspirational and astonishing.
These characters were built properly, but would have been nothing without Hemsworth and Brühl on camera. Each actor embodied their driver’s persona with contrasting beauty, capturing the deep emotional depth that comes along with being an adrenaline junkie.
Hemsworth was lovable, hilarious, studly, and played the perfect party animal in James Hunt. Not only that, but he captured the facade which Hunt always kept going that put his wild lifestyle in the spotlight, and counteracted this with his weaker moments of defeat. There’s no doubt that James Hunt loved his life, but he did so with such dangerous abandon, and Hemsworth grasped that nature head on. Thor may be the character Chris will be more widely recognized as, but his turn as James Hunt is undoubtedly his most impressive.
Daniel Brühl on the other hand was brash, arrogant, and downright unlikable at times – which is exactly what he had to be. Niki Lauda wanted to be the best, was smarter than everyone else, and he knew this. He didn’t care for the lavish lifestyle Hunt embraced, and spent all his time perfecting his craft. He grows over time though, as his accident puts things in perspective, and he’s able to value normalcy over racing when the risk didn’t outweigh the reward. Thinking of his beautiful wife (Alexandra Maria Lara), Lauda is able to make the distinction between courage and stupidity – something James Hunt was never able to grasp. Brühl delivers a career-defining masterpiece through his performance as Niki Lauda, one that justifies tremendous Oscar buzz.
Rush will have your heart racing from 0 to 60 scene by scene, as director Ron Howard puts you in the seat of a dangerous Formula 1 racecar, but also in the even more dangerous mind of the driver himself. Mixing the excitement of white-knuckle thrillers with the layered depth of an emotional drama, we’re given a beautiful hybrid experience that delights throughout, whether Chris Hemsworth is making us laugh or Daniel Brühl is pissing on his fun. There’s something heroic in both performances that paints these drivers as lionhearted knights, charging into battle, but we’re also reminded of the lunacy behind their actions. Of course, it’s this lunacy that grants our drivers a moment of ecstasy, as you’ve got to be willing to die in order to live.
Hell, adrenaline just might be the most dangerous drug available to man.