Sky Sports Online gives its take on the James Hunt and Niki Lauda biopic Rush
Rush is available on the Sky Store from 27th Jan: www.skystore.com
By Mike Wise
Last Updated: 13/02/14 12:01pm
Actually, in the unlikely event of you ever seeing the latter movie, it might be noticed that it was filmed in precisely the same year, 1976, which 'Rush' focuses on. Thankfully, all similarities end there. Ron Howard's film, of course, concentrates on the battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda for that year's World Championship and it's been said that the duel was so epic it stretched credulity beyond even Hollywood levels. As such, probably the simplest task Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan have faced is keeping the audience engaged.
They also have to cast the film's appeal beyond F1 heads, which might explain why the narrative and dialogue are a little bit 'biopic', particularly when setting the scene. But it serves its purpose well and also reflects how much the sport has changed. Certainly the notion of a team run by Lord Alexander Hesketh - who gave Hunt his break and who, together with his cronies, is portrayed as a hooray of horrific proportions - seems absurd now. Playing Hunt, Chris Hemsworth looks the part but makes 'Master James' a lot less interesting than he actually was. The soap star strut is at odds with the lanky Hunt's gait (watch the opening credits to Sky Sports F1's shows and you'll see him, head down and stooped, sprinting down a pitlane) - a reflection, perhaps, of a genuine eccentricity the film alludes to but sadly doesn't really explore. Perhaps there's just too much story to cram in. Rest assured, it does ram home Hunt's incorrigible reputation as a 24/7 sexual jackhammer and, of course, highlights his impulsive, highly-strung, brilliance behind the wheel.
If ever there was an F1 star whose talent burned briefly yet brightly, it was the Englishman. And like John Curry and The Wurzels, '76 was his year, the only season in which he managed to put it all together. Yet, even then, he relied on the misfortune of others. The film revolves around Lauda's crash, more specifically the heroic, bloody-minded fightback that saw him back in the cockpit just 43 days after inhaling 800-degree petrol fumes.
The accident left more obvious scars as well, which provide the film's most moving scenes (far more so than those depicting Hunt's eventual title win). Daniel Bruhl's performance as Lauda - as intense as Hunt seems carefree, as awkward as Hunt is extrovert - is hugely impressive, not just in his physical likeness but also the nuance of his portrayal. Both drivers rebelled against privileged backgrounds, but whereas Hunt dropped out in a style more attuned to the times, Lauda appeared if anything to drop even further in; a chip off the old block in terms of his ruthless, business-like approach, yet in a field his family thoroughly disapproved of.
It's an approach that won him respect if not popularity at first but Lauda's incredible bravery changed everything. If there's a criticism of the film it's that it overplays the rivalry; certainly Lauda insisted in his 1986 autobiography 'To Hell And Back' that it was always a friendly one and when one considers the barbs he aims at other contemporaries in the same book, that sounds right. After all, this is someone who, after driving a Ferrari for the first time as a young hopeful, reported back to Enzo Ferrari of all people that it was a 'piece of sh*t'. People know where they stand with Niki.
The story might have dropped into Howard's lap gift-wrapped with ribbons, but it still needed to be told. A significant part of that, of course, is the recreation of the actual racing and it's this aspect of 'Rush' that has caused particular wariness among fans. Will they do it justice? It's a pleasure to report that, not only do they meet expectations, they surpass them. Clearly, great care has been taken in locating contemporary cars and the paint jobs and helmet colours on display are, near as damn it, accurate. There is some visible CGI work in the set pieces but, considering the job they had recreating such a perilous era, you can barely see the join. Phew.
'Rush' was always going to be a must-see for F1 fans but its reach spreads far wider - not only because the story it tells stretches beyond the realms of sporting endeavour but also because its protagonists display, in their heroism and their flaws, very human qualities. Times have changed: F1 is now much safer and also much more popular. Commercial imperatives matter above all else, yet an intrinsic appeal has been lost forever. In that sense, it's a shame that one needs a film to capture it. But what a film it is.