As much as I do like John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, it is, admittedly, a difficult film to recommend to anyone without a pretty hefty interest in motorsport. Sure, Saul Bass’s elegant, stylish design complemented Frankenheimer’s eagerness to dump the viewer in the car at every possible opportunity, but it’s unlikely to turn the head of anyone who can’t already tick off the various circuits with a worrying degree of nonchalance.
More recent offerings such as Talladega Nights or Even Days of Thunder hit the mainstream mark, but lack a certain nerdy authenticity. Thankfully, with Rush, Ron Howard looks to have retained that air of legitimacy whilst never taking his eye off the majority audience he’s clearly courting. His look at James Hunt and Niki Lauda’s cataclysmic battle for the 1976 Formula One World Drivers’ Championship evokes a sense of the era well, but never bogs its audience down in technicalities.
Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) meet as young up-starts in the peripheral world of domestic Formula 3, but both have their eyes set on a seat at the top table. Like Senna and Prost who would follow a decade later, their styles are polar-opposites of head versus heart and cold calculation versus daring-do. Hunt is the flamboyant, moneyed gentleman-racer, the brash mercurially talented showman with bags of speed but a reputation for calamity. Lauda is the professor, the analyst who will dissect the situation from every angle and do just enough to win without risking his neck.
Anthony Dod Mantle snaps the breakneck showdown in a satisfyingly picturesque fashion without dampening down the blunt-force trauma. It never sinks into melodramatic sycophancy, but still winks at a mythos and greatness of two characters surviving in a game which still retained a degree of showmanship, yet continually blighted by disaster.
There’s genuine heft and grunt to the tarted-up F3 cars posing as period F1 machines too; when the sparks fly, you get a real sense of twisted metal and charred rubber. Bruhl’s shrewd thinker and Hensworth’s laissez-fair lothario inhabit a dangerous world, and a perilously addictive, devastating one, peppered with loss and risk. Bruhl nails it, his weekend with Lauda himself having obviously paid off. Hemsworth radiates sex-appeal and frivolous charm without quite placing Hunt’s distinctive fag-stained, wine-soaked inflection.
The frequent trips to the commentary box do little to ratchet up the tension, and spell out the action in a way which may be too obvious for anyone who’s ever sat through half a race. And a dubious composite death scene early on at the USA Grand prix feels a tad impertinent. Perhaps that’s the point though; rip away the identities of those drivers who perish in order to hammer home the threat of mortality which shadows every action of the two men at the sharp end of the grid.
Release Date: 13th September 2013 (UK)
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl,Olivia Wilde, Natalie Dormer