Published Sep 05, 2013The trouble with the central rivalry between Formula One racecar drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda that powers Ron Howard's Rush is that its sum is entirely greater than its parts. While they may have proved that spite can be a powerful motivating factor, in how they pushed each other to become better at the sport, they both led lives away from the track that were far from exceptional, making for a strangely inert film.
Their first brusque encounter occurs during the dawn of the '70s, when they're both racing in the lower ranks of Formula Three. The crux of their mutual resentment is never developed beyond the purely superficial — a clash of Austrian Lauda's (Daniel Bruhl) cold and calculated style with Brit Hunt's (Chris Hemsworth) cocky playboy ways. As if to throw down the gauntlet, Lauda takes out a loan to purchase his entrance into Formula One and then cunningly finagles his way into a contract with Ferrari, in exchange for his vehicular expertise.
Hunt follows him into Formula One and, after suffering a few setbacks with his machines, the two engage in a rollercoaster season in 1976 that finds Lauda recovering from a crash in which he's been horrifically burned to ensure Hunt doesn't catch him in the standings. The women in their lives are forced to take backseats along the way, with Lauda wooing Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), showcasing the important role his rear-end plays in his driving, while Hunt leaps into a tumultuous marriage with model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde).
While the drivers' romances fail to make much of an impression, the action on the track is exciting enough to make one wonder if Howard wanted so badly to make a movie about car-racing that he enlisted previous collaborator Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon) to write a movie about the best real-life story they could find. Sadly, the tale they chose to tell finds two neatly divergent personalities when it needs three-dimensional characters and, in an age where real-life events are frequently altered during cinematic treatment, this film is ironically deprived of a climax by how history played out.
There is something to be said about how the fire of healthy competition like the one driving Lauda and Hunt can lead to achieving some extraordinary feats. However, this bloated account makes it clear that their particular sports story is better suited to an episode of ESPN's exceptional 30 for 30 series of documentaries.