Review: Rush’s greatest triumph is in its depiction of Hunt and Lauda as heroes
1 October, 2013
Today’s Formula 1 is characterised by design regulations which govern every aspect of a car down to the millimeter, aerodynamicists who use computational fluid dynamics to design the car thus largelystandardizing the cars on the grid, homogenized race tracks that have been designed or redesigned by Herman Tilke, and drivers who lack personality and prefer to talk in PR-speak rather than their native language.
Because of all this it can be very easy to forget that there was once a time when each track was unique, the cars were magnificent and fearsome beasts designed to the very edge of both the regulations and beyond the realms of what passed for safety, and the drivers were larger than life, with huge personalities and the chance to become heroes.
Rush, directed by Ron Howard, takes us back to the mid 1970s, when the horsepower produced by a Formula 1 engine exceeded the aerodynamic and braking capabilities of the car, and safety was an afterthought both in the car and on the track.
The movie is a chronicle and character study of the rivalry between two of the most famous personalities of the time; James Hunt the ill-disciplined and gregarious playboy who lived fast, drove faster and never met a drink or a girl he didn’t love, and Niki Lauda the self-possessed, arrogant and humourless professional who knew it all and loved to prove it to people over and over again, and never refrained from saying exactly what was on his mind. In this the movie is excellent.
The script is exceptionally well written and brings out the personalities of both men, their initial hatred for one another and their growing friendship, very strongly.
Rush is not a racing movie, per se, although it is a study of the very different driving styles of Hunt and Lauda and how these styles were reflections of their personalities: ‘Hunt the Shunt’ was a hard charging driver who never backed down from a challenge on the track and often ended up wrecking his car or blowing up the engine.
Lauda was much more calculated about his driving, taking into account the risks involved in every maneuver on the track. The racing scenes are directed and shot extremely well, but they do take a back seat to the bigger picture of the story.
The movie’s story is told episodically, and revolves around Lauda’s near-fatal accident at the Nürburgring in 1976, when he was trapped inside flames that exceeded 800 degrees Fahrenheit and was given last rites upon arrival at the hospital.
Here lies my greatest criticism: The episodic nature of the script enables the viewer to live in this period of time through a few key moments in the personal lives of each driver and the 1976 Formula 1 season, and to understand how these moments intensified their rivalry and ultimately led to a grudging friendship.
At the same time, the majority of the racing episodes move so fast and have so little detail about them that they are almost afterthoughts to the movie’s narrative. Howard used this plot device once before, in Cinderella Man, but to much greater effect, and I only wish that he had spent more time constructing the episodic narrative of the 1976 season in order to tell this aspect of the tale much more dramatically and effectively.
Rush’s greatest triumph is in its depiction of Hunt and Lauda as heroes. In Greek mythology a hero was a man who possessed superhuman qualities, and whose exploits became the stuff of myth.
Lauda entered the pantheon of heroes at Monza in 1976, when he returned to racing and finished in fourth place just six weeks after having been given last rites. Hunt became a hero during the last race of the season at Fuji, in Japan, where he braved a rainstorm of monsoon-like proportions and a late-race tire change to charge to the finish line in third place, beating Lauda to the championship by a single point.
Rush depicts these moments with all the care for accuracy, drama and pathos that Ron Howard is known for, and for this alone the movie can be said to tell a wonderful story of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and the 1976 Formula 1 season. (Harris Breslow)
Subbed by AJN.