Formula One racing is not my sport.  If it were, I would apparently know about the intense early 70’s rivalry between Englishman James Hunt, played by Chris Hemsworth and Austrian Niki Lauda, played by Daniel Bruhl.  This film, directed by Ron Howard and written by Peter Morgan details this period in racing history.  It covers both their exploits on the track and the ups and downs of their personal lives.

These two men could not be more different.  Hunt is a brash risk taker who lives for the speed and the thrills, relying on his nerve and instincts.  Lauda is a cold technician who calculates the odds and plays them expertly.  He participates in the construction and maintenance of his cars, innovating ways to make them lighter and more powerful.  Contrast that with a scene of Hunt standing in the doorway of the garage where they’re working on his car, shrugging and walking away with a drink in his hand.  Hunt chats up every female he comes across with an amazing success rate, marrying supermodel Suzy Miller and eventually losing her to Richard Burton, whereas Lauda enters into a stable marriage with the aristocratic Marlene, played by Alexandra Maria Lara but worries that wedded bliss will take the edge off of his competitive nature.

Over the years these two interact.  Their relationship begins with mutual dislike, mutates to respect, and finally to something like friendship. 

They constantly needle each other about their respective approaches to racing and life.  The genius of the film is that they are both right.  To succeed at that level you need to be dedicated and calculating, keeping your mind on your profession.  But at some point sheer nerve has to take over.  Plus if you don’t enjoy your accomplishments and the perks that come with them, why do it?

Ron Howard’s direction is masterful.  Rush isn’t quite up there with his best films like Parenthood or Apollo 13 but it is close.  The race scenes are kinetic and brilliantly edited.  He uses camera movement and blocking to characterize the two main characters.  In the first part of the film, Hunt never stops moving, either pacing or walking somewhere quickly.  The camera moves with him.  The jump cuts come fast and furious.  But Lauda is like the eye in a storm, stationary, never moving unless he has a purpose.  But Howard reverses this at the end of the film, once Hunt has achieved his goal.  He’s the one who’s still, not because he’s calculating anything but because he’s proven what he needed to prove.  Lauda is now the restless one, determined to get back on top and stay there.

Like Formula One racing moving making is a technical enterprise.  A director needs to worry about details  like continuity, lighting levels and sound effects.  But at some point every film needs that injection of emotion, an actor forgetting the camera and the microphone and just going for it.

Perhaps everything in life needs that kind of balance.


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