Ron Howard’s F1 saga offers a Rush for film fans

Ron Howard’s F1 saga offers a Rush for film fans

Photo by Jaap Buitendijk

With his latest directorial effort, Ron Howard returns to vintage form, reviving and delivering something of a rarity in contemporary filmmaking – a classic and triumphant sports film. Frederick Latty straps himself in to review Rush (cert 15).

Despite being snubbed at the 2012 Academy Awards, Asif Kapadia’s critically and commercially acclaimed documentary, Senna, succeeded in bringing the fascinating and sometimes tragic history of Formula 1 racing firmly to the forefront of cinemagoers’ minds. With Rush, director Ron Howard has taken this insight one step further, producing a high budget, big screen sports biopic for the ages. Set in the no holds barred world of 1970s F1 racing, the film follows the  true story of the six-year rivalry between driving champions James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), which culminated in the thrilling 1976 Japanese Grand Prix – having already almost claimed the life of one of them.

While the likes of boxing, baseball and American football have all enjoyed more than their fare share of the Hollywood treatment (see Rocky, Field of Dreams, Remember the Titans et al), F1 racing has been comparatively overlooked by the silver screen throughout the ages. Here, Howard lifts the veil on the sport’s thrill-seeking golden age, introducing us to a sexy, glamorous and high octane vision of days gone by. On the track, the action is as exhilarating as any Grand Prix fan could hope for; beautifully shot and masterfully edited, it puts its audience firmly in the driver’s seat, refusing to let up in its intensity.

Equally superb is its depiction of obsession and one-upmanship in its central characters. With his blue-eyed charm, platinum blonde locks and rock star charisma, Hemsworth’s Hunt is the James Bond of the F1 world; he wins the races, he gets the women and he wows the cameras, with all the cocksure arrogance of a natural born champion, but lacking the discipline of his Austrian adversary. In short, a throwaway allusion of “Hunt, James Hunt” says it all.

Brühl’s portrayal of Lauda, meanwhile, is a far more pragmatic one. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to his real life counterpart, the Spanish actor gives a reserved and understated performance of a man whose commitment to his craft was matched only by his ambition for victory.

To that end, Hunt and Lauda, whose fates are intrinsically tied to an unyielding need for speed that refuses to let up, retain nothing but the utmost respect for one another as rivals. Indeed, the film goes to great lengths to drive home the romance behind the sport, its death defying leading men facing off not only against one another, but their own limits. While some viewers might see this heightened view as somewhat contrived, diehard F1 fans will be lapping it up in spades.

In essence, Rush is the latest in a great tradition of sports movies that has been noticeably absent on the big screen of late. While it utilises many of the genre’s most celebrated hallmarks, it also offers its own fresh perspective; rather than rooting for the underdog’s uncanny defiance of the odds at the eleventh hour, its heroes are treated as real, flawed human beings, whose relentless pursuit of their dreams makes for one hell of a ride.

 Verdict – 4 stars

 While Senna may have had a tough time getting off the Oscar starting line, Ron Howard’s latest is pure Academy gold. You don’t need to be an F1 aficionado to appreciate that this stellar effort is among the finest films released so far this year and is in pole position for 2014’s Best Picture race.