Whilst opinion has it that he should have followed through and made “Willow 2” (if you haven’t seen the “Life’s Too Short” special by Warwick Davis/Ricky Gervais, you really should!), Ron Howard’s latest film is Rush, the quite remarkable true story of the rivalry of James Hunt and Nikki Lauda culminating in the thrilling finale of the 1976 Grand Prix season. And it really is a remarkable story. Being of senior years (I was only 15 at the time) I can only vaguely remember the details of the horrific crash that nearly killed Lauda and of him coming back from the dead to race again. But this is a much broader and more gripping story than that, and amongst all the rivalry and petrol-headedness lies a most unusual and touching love story.
James Hunt is played with gusto by Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Star Trek) who portrays extremely well the degree to which Hunt was a complete tosser – of his golden locks, and indeed more generally. He is not a good advert for equal rights between men and woman picking up, sexually using and then casually dropping women at will amongst a life otherwise filled with reckless driving, whiskey, drugs and (bizarre but true) budgerigar breeding.
But the acting chops in this film go to Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds, The Bourne Ultimatum) playing the driven, focussed and unlikeable Lauda. He steals every scene he’s in, some of which are delightful: the scene in which he impresses his future wife and two enthusiastic Italian fans by driving fast is fabulous.
There’s also a great supporting cast, with Olivia Wilde as Suzy Hunt, Alexandra Maria Lara as Lauda’s wife Marlene and a nearly unrecognisable Stephen Mangan (without the frizzy hair) as McClaren boss Alastair Caldwell.
But the other stars of the show are the cars and the truly exhilarating recreations of the dangers of the 70’s era Grand Prix – a time when many drivers didn’t walk away from crashes as they do today with modern car designs and materials. This footage works
extremely well, and was largely filmed in the UK including at the Blackbushe WW2 airbase in Hampshire. Other locations were Snetterton in Norfolk, Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire and Brands Hatch as well as the unmistakable dips and curves of the Nürburgring in Germany: the track that was to bring such disaster to Lauda.
Motor Racing films have – if you’ll pardon the pun – a bit of a chequered history. John Frankenheimer’s “Grand Prix” with James Garner had some exciting – for the times – motor racing scenes, but drowned in soggy melodrama off the circuit. Petrol head Steve McQueen lifted the story of Le Mans above the norm. But Ron Howard really puts the pedal to the metal with this film, zipping the story effectively through the Grand Prix season in economical fashion, keeping the off-track drama grounded and entertaining and surprising with sudden and elegant shots of firing engine pistons and intermixed real-life footage. The tension built up for the climactic race in Japan is outstanding.
The film is not perfect. The script whilst brilliant in places – the final scene with Hunt and Lauda being a case in point – can be a bit soapy and twee in places. But this is an engaging and engrossing film, for F1 fans and non-fans alike. My wife Sue truly hates Formula 1 with a vengeance … but she greatly enjoyed this film: so whilst fans of the sport will likely adore this film, “drag-along” partners should also enjoy it too. Highly recommended.
Fad Rating: FFFFf.