No, it’s not a biopic of mad American shock-jock Rush Limbaugh, played by Naomi Watts. Nor is it a rockumentary about Canadian prog outfit Rush, played by Naomi Watts. Rush is a dramatisation of the real rivalry between 1970s Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).
Writer Peter Morgan has previous form with this type of two-hander, having penned Channel 4’s The Deal and Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon. One again he manages to make the central rivalry interesting, even for those idiots who’ve never heard of Hunt and Lauda, like me. Hemsworth and Brühl seem perfectly cast as two equally sympathetic characters with very different approaches to their sport. The British Hunt is hot-headed and emotional, while the Austrian Lauda is cautious and calculated. They’re like Kirk and Spock, but in cars.
Arrested Development‘s Ron Howard directs with confidence and flair, making the personal drama and the adrenaline-pumping race sequences equally compelling; needless to say, the latter work because of the former. Perhaps most impressive is the sound design – the racetracks roar, the engines purr and the drivers… meow, I guess. The races bring with them the same nail-biting sense of inevitability that accompanied the brilliant documentary Senna (played by Naomi Watts).
Rush is a brilliantly-made piece of popcorn entertainment, with well-written characters and some fine filmmaking – one scene involving a Scalextric is a particularly nice touch. For all its broad appeal, which it has in gallons, it doesn’t pull any punches and there are some real wince moments. For such an explicitly character-led drama to remain so visceral and gripping is quite rare. It looks like the summer of cinematic mediocrity might finally be over. As Richard Curtis might say, about bloody time.