In life, it often seems that there's a fine line between an enemy and an adversary; the former will use his hatred to hold you back, but the latter will use his talent and intellect to leave you behind. If we're fortunate enough to have a principled adversary, it can push us to achieve things we never dreamt possible. Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda shared just such a relationship, and director Ron Howard teams with screenwriter Peter Morgan to explore it in Rush, a fascinating look at the rivalry between two men who were interesting enough on their own, but whose obsessive competition led to some of the most exciting races of their era.
Both on the track and off, Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Lauda (Daniel Brühl) couldn't have been more different. Yet as much as Englishman Hunt's showy public persona clashed with Lauda's reputation for tightly controlled perfectionism, both men remained bound together by one undeniable fact -- they were both among the best drivers ever to grace the racetrack. When a horrific crash during the 1976 Grand Prix at the Nürburgring nearly claims Lauda's life, however, a grudging respect begins to develop between the two racers, as Hunt realizes just how devoted his greatest adversary is to the sport they both love.
Eleanor Roosevelt was once quoted as saying, "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." The same sentiment applies to filmmakers and the subjects they choose to explore. Rush succeeds because Howard and Morgan focused their efforts on the idea that a rivalry could push a competitor to greatness. Meanwhile, they were fortunate to have colorful subjects with larger-than-life personalities who were part of a sport that lends itself to cinematic spectacle. In their era, Hunt and Lauda existed on opposite ends of the same spectrum: two men whose methods of operation couldn't have been more different, yet were -- against all odds -- equally effective. The fact that they were both supremely talented dictated that they were destined to clash, but while there was always that electric tension that comes with constant one-upmanship, what many fans didn't see (or chose to overlook) was that there was also a deep-rooted mutual respect that makes their story all the more interesting. When those factors are taken into consideration, it seems perfectly logical that the first words spoken by Lauda to Hunt in the movie are "Hey, asshole!," but that choice of dialogue also reveals just how well Morgan understands the passion that's born from risking your life for your chosen profession.
It's also an indicator of the vibrancy that the writer and director bring to the material. At its essence, Rush is a cinematic celebration of speed and sportsmanship, but it's also a film that understands just how much fun it must be for a driver to race around a winding F1 track at nearly 200 mph. There are moments in Rush that will likely make you laugh out loud, but like the supporting characters in the movie that get most of these laughs, they serve to enhance the underlying drama rather than blunt it. Though their screen time is admittedly minimal, Pierfrancesco Favino and Christian McKay stand out as, respectively, Hunt's teammate and one-time manager; their memorable presence also serves to isolate Lauda, a racer who readily admits that he isn't interested in making friends. Still, as portrayed by Brühl, it's hard not to grow fond of Lauda. Despite his sober personality, he's not a humorless man, and Brühl portrays his vulnerabilities in a way that's truly relatable for anyone who's ever found his or her ambition clashing with self-doubt. Hemsworth, on the other hand, injects Hunt's hyper-confident playboy with enough nervous ticks to reveal that he too is only human when the helmet comes off. Still, his guarded quips when confronted by the press about his impending divorce offer testament that his wit in public was just as quick as his shifting on the track.
Despite his incredible success, Ron Howard has often been cited as a director who lacks any discernible style. But taken individually, his movies can possess a unique look and feel all their own, and Rush certainly captures a moment in history with vivid detail thanks to Howard's ability to assemble a top-notch crew -- the one factor both racers and filmmakers share. For that reason and many others, you don't have to be a Formula One fan to recognize that Rush captures the urgency of the race and the intimacy of a great rivalry with incredible craftsmanship -- all you need to do is buy a ticket.