Chris Hemsworth-Rush-485
Photo by Jaap Buitendijk - © Universal Studios

Rush is the story of an unusual rivalry between two championship Formula One racers in the 1970s—a saga well known in England and Europe, less so here in the States. Screenwriter Peter Morgan, who has spun gold out of real-life stories in such films as The Queen, Frost/Nixon, and The Last King of England, focuses on two men who pursue the same sport but couldn’t be more different. James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a playboy and daredevil who’s willing to risk his life on the track in exchange for the attention of sexy women and an endless supply of champagne. Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), the black sheep of his banking family, takes a cold, scientific approach to driving and the maintenance of his vehicles; he has no social skills.

Director Ron Howard has brought this story to life with unbridled energy, transforming each race into an adrenaline-charged vignette that could serve as a master class in staging and (especially) editing action scenes. His longtime editing colleagues Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill deserve special mention, along with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (whose immersive technique served Slumdog Millionaire so well). Mark Digby’s production design and Julian Day’s costumes flawlessly evoke the ‘70s without showing off.

Ultimately, it’s up to Hemsworth and Brühl to delineate the personalities of these polar opposites and make them credible, which they do.

Daniel Brühl-Rush-485
Photo by Jaap Buitendijk - © Universal Studios

What they can’t do is make us care about them, and it’s here that Rush faces its greatest challenge. Neither Hunt nor Lauda is especially likable or even admirable, depending on your point of view. I may be a lone voice, but I don’t find resonance or the stuff of great drama in their rivalry. It’s a mildly interesting story, spiked with the inherent spectacle of auto racing and its attendant dangers…but hardly Shakespearean or Greek in magnitude. The subplot of Hunt’s failed marriage to a glamorous model (played by Olivia Wilde) is dealt with so perfunctorily it’s hardly worth the time it takes to tell. Lauda’s unlikely courtship and marriage is actually more intriguing.

Because Howard is a great director who has marshaled an exceptional team of colleagues, Rush offers a visceral moviegoing experience that will likely please many audiences. But on reflection I think there is less here than meets the eye.