Even if you're not a Formula One racing fan, you're sure to get revved up by "Rush," director Ron Howard's spectacular tale of the rivalry between English racer James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda in the 1970s. An adrenaline-fueled thrill ride from start to finish, this amazing true story easily crosses the finish line as one of the best films of the year so far.
Chris Hemsworth, who was catapulted to superstardom with his portrayal of the hammer-wielding superhero Thor, gives a smashing performance as Hunt, a playboy racer who is hell-bent on winning the Formula One championship. Standing in his way is Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), an introverted automotive genius who uses his intuitive skills to break into the racing game and quickly rise to championship status.
"Rush" begins in 1976, but quickly backtracks to 1970 and the early days of the racers, chronicling their intense rivalry on the track that sometimes ends in glory and other times in tragedy. And while Howard literally puts you in the piston-pumping inner-workings of these dynamic automobiles and grounds the camera on the tracks as they take every dangerous turn, he never loses sight of the human story that fuels the movie.
The great thing is, while we see the battles between Hunt and Lauda as professionals, Howard also delves into the self-destructive behavior of Hunt, a hard-partier and serial womanizer (it's how to keep count how many women he seduces into bed or any other available space throughout the film); and Lauda, a self-absorbed genius with zero emotion who is an a****** (and he knows it).
The A-word, in fact, is bandied about quite often throughout the film, along with its share of F-bombs and other swear words. The film definitely earns its R rating, thanks to some auto wreck carnage and nudity via Hemsworth and some of his female co-stars.
More than anything, despite the racers' on-track rivalry, Howard beautifully plays out the racers' deep respect for one-another. That relationship is really what gives the movie it's heart and soul, and it's quite moving to learn how their story continued to play out as Howard shows real footage of Hunt and Lauda at the end of the film.
The interesting thing about the film is how viewers oblivious to the sport and its legends can actually be at an advantage. From a cinematic standpoint, viewers with little or no knowledge of Formula One and the racers' history will be at the edges of their seats, because there's telling which way the story is going to go.
The film is sure to score some Oscar nominations -- Best Picture and Best Director for Howard, likely -- and I'll eat my hat if doesn't win for Best Editing as Howard has Daniel P. Hanley cut together some of the most breathtaking scenes on film in years.
Hemsworth and Bruhl -- a German-raised actor whose previous high-profile film credit was Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" -- both give winning performances, and should both be viewed as serious Oscar contenders for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Bruhl is really more than a supporting player, but with as studio campaign strategies pan out, the two will best stand a chance for Oscar glory if they go the separate routes.
While Olivia Wilde is billed third in the film, her turn as a woman scorned in a brief marriage to Hunt is really overshadowed by German-raised actress Alexandra Maria Lara, who plays Lauda's wife, Marlene -- the one person apart from Hunt who understands how Lauda ticks.
"Rush," rated R, 4 stars out of four.
What other local critics are saying ...
Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press gives the film 2 stars, saying the it doesn't have enough humanity. He also notes the second half of the movie is more compelling than the first.
Colin Covert of the Star Tribune gives the film 3 1/2 stars, calling the on-track action "blistering," the filmmaking "sure-footed" and the characters "bigger than life."
Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.