Keen to capitalise on the overwhelming success of Asif Kapadia’s sensational documentary Senna, director Ron Howard, whose responsible for some of Hollywood’s biggest commercial successes, reteams with Frost/Nixon screenwriter Peter Morgan for Rush. What could have been a compelling character expose set in and around the high-octane world of Formula One is, in the end, disappointingly bloated and mild on dramatic thrills.
Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) have two extremely different personalities: Lauda is the reliable brainy type who times everything with precision, while Hunt is the cocky, bullheaded playboy who acts on pure impulse. United only by their undying, life-risking love for high-octane motor racing, Lauda and Hunt begin a timeless antagonism that comes to a head during the 1976 Formula One season.
Utilising a back-and-forth narrative structure that attempts to split the time evenly between Lauda and Hunt, Rush covers a lot of bases over the course of its stretched run time. Too many, in fact. Neither characters personal story away from the race track is allowed significant time to breathe. Not only does this limit the audiences investment, but it also reduces many of the supporting actors to inconsequential sideline roles (Olivia Wilde is wasting entirely as first wife Suzy).
It limits, too, the amount of material Brühl and Hemsworth have to work with. Bruhl delivers a decent performance as Lauda, while Hemsworth fails to make much of an impression as Hunt, effectively portraying him exactly the same as he portrays the brash, cocky hammer-wielding superhero in both Thor and The Avengers. The emphasis is put more on the rivalry between them than themselves as individuals though, even though their conflicts are no more than petty playground squabbles.
But all is saved by the sheer brilliance of the races, captured in all their terrifyingly real accuracy by Howard and cinematographer. Archival footage is mixed with near-perfect recreations and digital brilliance stunningly, and the pace is ramped up accordingly. It results in crazy good sequences that are difficult not to get wrapped up in and go some way – yet unfortunately not all the way – in excusing the issues that plague the film when attention shifts elsewhere and the action slows right down.