“Rush” tells a good story about an intense rivalry between two Formula One race car drivers in the 1970’s.
James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) was the classic P.R. version of the Formula One race car driver: handsome, dashing, debonair----aggressive both on the track and with the ladies----a party-goer who didn’t think too much about his craft, but relied on guts, instinct, and native skill. (In Star Wars terminology, he was endowed with natural gifts from The Force.) He loved the limelight, the publicity, the attention of the pretty girls, and the celebrity status which his success brought to him. He had difficulty only when the racing team couldn’t get its act together, either with securing sponsors or with technical difficulties regarding the car’s engine, which our intrepid Mr. Hunt considered merely boring details not worth his personal attention. He once decided, rather impulsively, to get married to a beautiful model, thinking that it might help “settle him down,” mainly to insure that he kept focused on the racing, but she had a busy international traveling schedule, too, and, well, he wasn’t really ready to give up the party life for her, anyway.
By complete contrast, his primary rival was Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), a serious-minded Austrian who took it upon himself to learn the intricacies of the engine and even give instructions to his team’s mechanics. He, like James Hunt, grew up in a prosperous family who gave him a good education, and like Mr. Hunt, disappointed his family with his interest in car racing. But Mr. Lauda, like Mr. Hunt, had a gift. He also, as he famously explained to a girl he’d just met (who would later become his wife), had “an educated ass”-----that is, he could tell by sitting in a car what needed correcting, either in the engine or with the suspension and steering. He was a dedicated student of his craft, and a one-woman man, and a humorless egotist. He even worried about beginning to feel happy with his wife, because he feared that would make him tentative on the Grand Prix circuit, where every race was a calculated flirtation with a fiery death.
The rivalry between the two men was at first a mere exchange of barbs, what we would term today as “trash talk,” but they soon found they couldn’t ignore each other, because each represented the primary competition for the coveted championship, which was awarded on points, according to each success on the racing circuit. In 1976, in particular, the two men traded places in the standing frequently, depending on which one won that week. Soon it was apparent to them that their rivalry actually brought out the best in both of them, and a grudging mutual respect began to emerge.
I won’t give away the story of what happened in the competition that year, but Director Ron Howard somehow makes it compelling, watching race cars go around in a circle, because he has made the characters around the cars vivid and interesting. Yes, there’s some gratuitous nudity, and a bit of strong language, and yes, the horific crashes make spectacular violence, but it’s a relatively mild “R,” and the fact that it’s based on actual events lends it more credibility. In a way, Ron Howard-like, it’s a whimsical transport to yesteryear.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas