The not-so-secret secret behind most sports movies is that the vast majority of them are ultimately not really about sports. The sports aspect of the film is usually just a conduit to a deeper story about friendship, family, commitment or whatever else the filmmakers want to explore.
But the sports component has to be compelling for the deeper story to truly take hold. In that respect, director Ron Howard may be facing an uphill battle with American audiences with his new film, Rush, which chronicles the fierce rivalry of two Formula 1 race car drivers in the 1970s.
Chris Hemsworth is perfectly cast as cocky race driver James Hunt and embraces the role with gusto.
On one side is James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), a brash and cocky Englishman who uses those qualities — and good looks — to charm everyone in his path, especially women.
On the other is Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), a reserved and determined Austrian whose interests lie solely in becoming the best Formula 1 driver in the world.
Their rivalry plays out mostly over the course of the 1976 season, which finds them locked in a tight race for the top spot on the circuit over the course of numerous races in multiple countries. They do so knowing that the line between great driving and possible death is razor thin in their increasingly dangerous sport.
Howard does his level best to give the audience a feel for the intensity of the sport, putting cameras in the cars and sometimes even the helmets of the two rivals. Even with all the tricks at his disposal, though, there’s only so much he can do to make their duel seem rousing. Individual moments have their thrills, to be sure, but the season-long back-and-forth is difficult to make exciting, no matter much how you gussy it up.
Naturally, it’s both men’s approach to life, which also plays out in their respective romantic relationships, that gives the film its real depth. The fact that the two are so different off the track, yet equally as successful on it, provides for a variety of fun and interesting situations. Still, with everything else going on, it’s hard to say that we truly get to know either one of them.
Hemsworth is perfectly cast as Hunt; not only does he have the long-haired look down, thanks to his multiple stints as Thor, but he also embraces the role with gusto. Brühl is also excellent, although in his case he’s both aided and hurt by a distracting set of false teeth that gives him a great ratty look and a horrendous speaking style.
The actual racing in Rush will probably only delight those who already had a predilection toward the sport. But the contentious relationship between Hunt and Lauda, and the performances of Hemsworth and Brühl, make the film worth seeing even if you’ve never watched a race in your life.