No sport besides maybe weld bekämpfen, the little known German game in which suit-wearing competitors take turns to violently throw thick wads of cash at one another, is more lavish and ostentatious than Formula One. It is a sport for anyone disappointed by the lack of needless excess in premier league football, and anyone who believes that a victory is best celebrated by elaborately spoiling an entire bottle of champagne, purely for the pleasure of being able to do so.
Yet for all its glitz and glamour, F1 is a reasonably simple sport that is not especially difficult to follow. Unlike American football, which can seem to outsiders more complicated than assembling Ikea furniture, it can be explained to newcomers in just a few words. All one really needs to know is that the fastest car wins.
It requires even less knowledge than this to enjoy Ron Howard’s Formula One film Rush, which like all good sport films has, beneath the surface, surprisingly little to do with sport at all. Instead the film tells the true story of drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, whose intense relationship on and off the track remains one of the all-time great rivalries.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor) assumes the role of Hunt, the golden-haired playboy, who during his first moments on screen is seen stumbling into a hospital, bloodied and bruised, after a scuffle with another driver. One scene later and he is having sex with the nurse who has just tended to his cuts, having seduced her with little more than a wink and a smile.
Hunt couldn’t be more different from Lauda, who has little patience for anything besides Formula One. Played brilliantly by Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds), Lauda has few friends and even fewer admirers, due largely to his reticent demeanour and unusual appearance. When Hunt tells him that he looks like a rat, he insists that he doesn’t care, adding, “Rats are smart.”
Lauda could easily have been the villain of the film, but even at his most unlikeable he’s not entirely bad. Hunt, on the other hand, with his good looks and his dashing charisma, could easily have been the film’s daring hero, but we are instead reminded too frequently throughout the film of his obvious flaws for him to be anything greater than an inherently troubled person.
There are no conventionally likeable characters in Rush. At the core of the film are two tragic men, both consumed by Formula One and the desire to be world champion. Neither driver it seems is particularly happy with life: Hunt pastes over his problems with drugs, booze and women, and struggles to sustain relationships with the people he loves, while Lauda struggles with the concept of happiness itself, believing it to be something of a weakness.
It is therefore difficult to decide which character to root for, as nothing in Rush is completely clear-cut. Even Hunt and Lauda, who hate each other to begin with, slowly gain a strange sort of affection for each other, after both realising that their rivalry is really the only thing that either of them truly care about.
Rush does an incredible job of adapting the Hunt and Lauda saga in not only a way that is entertaining, but in a way that leaves its audience wishing to know more about the story on which the film is based. Howard has managed to create a film that is not merely for petrol heads, but rather a film of two rivals and the problems they face as they literally risk their lives to become world champion.
Rush is in cinemas now