The 2013 movie Rush was never high on my list, probably because auto racing isn't exactly my thing. (Beyond a background level of awareness that's inevitable when you're from Indianapolis, thanks to the Indy 500.) The movie did make it on my list, however, because of its director Ron Howard. High speed thrills just seemed like such a strange choice for him. Though he's by no means an exclusively art house type of filmmaker, the blockbusters he makes tend to be somewhat cerebral in nature. (See The Da Vinci Code. Well, not literally; it was average at best.) I was always a bit curious to see what was going on here that attracted his interest.
Rush centers around the rivalry between Formula One racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt. A rivalry builds between them throughout the 1970s, coming to a head during the 1976 season in which the championship seemed certain to go to one or the other.
I struggled with the pacing of this movie. It opens as a pivotal race in the middle of the 1976 season is about to begin, but then immediately flashes back to 1970 and recounts the intervening years over the first half of the film. I understand why the audience needs to see all this; caring about who wins the championship depends on caring about these two men. We need to understand who they are and how their rivalry developed. That granted, I think the movie could have done all that far more efficiently. Just 15 minutes in, everything we need is crystal clear: Lauda is a self-made star with confidence that projects as arrogance, while Hunt is an incorrigible thrill-chaser who bristles at rules. Watching the movie paint in all the side characters orbiting these men started to get tedious.
Of course, the movie knows exactly what it's doing in starting with that 1976 race -- that feels in many ways like the moment the story actually begins. Once the movie catches back up to its opening, the final hour is quite compelling. There's tension and emotion in turns, moments to bring you to the edge of your seat and moments that make you look away and cringe. It's all anchored by two great performances: Daniel Bruhl as Lauda, and Chris Hemsworth as Hunt. Both are quite unlikable at times, each in different shades of a similar sense of entitlement. Yet both are also sympathetic at times. You can root for either of them, and indeed do at different points in the story.
It's possible that another reason the first half of the film lags is that much of it is manufactured. It didn't feel "false" to me as such, but it did feel awfully familiar in a Hollywood sort of way, to a point where I didn't need to see so much of it. It turns out that much of this part of the story is false. The rivalry between Lauda and Hunt was purely professional, not personal as this movie portrays for dramatic emphasis. In fact, the two were roommates early in their careers and remained friends afterward. I'm okay with the needs of drama taking priority over faithfully telling a true story, but I'm not sure this movie struck the right balance in basically being half fact and half fiction.
Still, once Rush does get to the meat of the tale, I was totally with it. I'd give it a B- overall. It's by no means a "must see," but at least was considerably more entertaining to me than an actual auto race.