There are few films which have the firepower to launch viewers right into the cinematic world. It’s not just a question of whether a film is engaging or entertaining, but how much it can reward the audience emotionally. In 1995, director Ron Howard brought us Apollo 13, a faithful depiction of the disastrous lunar mission of 1970. He showed that viewers could still fear for the lives of characters despite many knowing of the positive outcome. Now with Rush, Howard has managed to once again create a film so emotionally effective, it feels like eight tonnes of thrust have been applied to the cinematography to slam us right in the driver’s seat.
After the extraordinary success of Formula 1 documentary Senna, following up with a solid racing film is no easy task, but in essence Rush is a Hollywoodisation of similar subject material. The premise is straightforward; the film recounts the blazing rivalry between English racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian powerhouse Nikki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) through the first half of the 1970’s, leading to Lauda’s horrific accident in 1976 and the eventual conclusion of that year’s World Championship.
The term ‘immersive’ is certainly the right phrase to use when discussing Rush, but it must not be confused with simply the visual immersion. The film takes a psychological perspective, it emotionally enthralls to ensure that every single raindrop, gear change, engine roar and swear word hauls you right into the ring. This is the beauty of Howard’s direction, he alongside screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon) have the power to make you know and understand the concept of danger, and just how tense and nerve-wracking real life racing can be. Just how is it that a film which depicts such a publicised and famous event which many people are aware deliver so much apprehension? The magic of cinema is right where it should be with Rush.
There are smooth jumps in the film from driver’s back stories to a beautiful and rip-roaring backdrop of V12 engines, crashes and the ever reliably commanding Hans Zimmer soundtrack. There is no jarring to be mentioned, as the variations increase the mental immersion which Howard is handing to us. Hemsworth and Brühl are superbly cast as the opposing rivals, what aids their screen presence is the fact that their characters could literally not be more different to each other, yet each has the emotional strength equivalent to the strength of their egos.
It is evident Howard and co took inspiration from Senna, as there is a more than ample amount of petrol-headed politics, rivalries and mechanics to satisfy hard-core F1 enthusiasts, and also provide us with a unique portrayal of high-octane racing for mainstream audiences. In-helmet, in-wheel and in-engine shots are given to us during the races, all helping to boost the surging, roaring power of the film to make the proceedings feel like an in-car simulator.
Rush is a loud, fast, slick, sexy, pounding success, proving that Ron Howard truly is a signature filmmaker who is in sync with the mainstream audiences of today, if a sentimental story is to be told, then this is how to tell it. Avatar was astonishing in its visual immersion, but Rush goes all out with deep emotion, and a true sense of dread and tension alongside visual flare. You may need to lie down for a while afterwards.