Daniel Bruhl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara
Dir. Ron Howard
Live fast and die young might have been one of James Hunt’s mantras, but one wonders if he lay on his deathbed in 1993 wishing he could have a few more dacades. That’s the thing about people who live fast and die young: they think they’re going to live forever.
Ron Howard’s film about the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda pushes this mortal dilemma in our faces in nearly every scene. Hunt, played by Chris Hemsworth, is the champagne swigging, bird shagging, blonde playboy – the lothario euphemisms are endless. Lauda, Daniel Bruhl in a Michael Sheen-esque chameleon performance, is methodical, meticulous and single-minded in his determination to become as much a machine as the car he drives.
If this were fiction you just know Hunt will have a road to Damascus moment and wonder if there’s more to life. And man-machine Lauda will discover his heart is actually an human organ and not a pumping device made out of tin. But this isn’t fiction, this is cold bloodied fact. A little bit of artistic license is sprinkled here and there. Hunt and Lauda shared a flat in the early days, which probably explains why Hunt, towards the end of the film, can get away with telling Lauda he must be the only man to have his face burned off and be better looking aftwerwards. The tracks of Formula 1 are littered with driver antagonisms, but Hunt and Laudas’ wasn’t quite as extreme as Rush makes it out to be.
The film starts at the Nurburgring in August 1976, the day of Lauda’s headline making crash. Before we reach that hideous conclusion though, we’re catapulted backwards six years to the moment when Hunt and Lauda meet at a Formula 3 race. The gloves come off, not for a fight, but to allow Hunt a better grip on his glass of bubbly before the start of the race. Lauda has his mechanics, Hunt his ladyfriends. And thus the competition, the enmity, begins.
Rush continues to tell the story in real Roy of the Rovers style and this is the film’s biggest problem. The lives of these two men were already dramatic enough, both in their own ways had fascinating biographies, made all the more engrossing when the two eventually met on the circuits of motor racing. The voiceovers, commentaries and some of the dialogue can’t resist telling us the obvious. Men cheating death, killer racetracks, and so on and so forth. The only possible excuse for this is that Rush is a movie and movies have to pay for themselves at the box office, the US box office in particular, a country where Formula 1 never really gripped the imagination in the way Indycar and NASCAR did. But even so, fans of those US race series don’t need to be told that motor racing is dangerous. People watching the film who know nothing about motor racing don’t need to be told that motor racing is dangerous.
The clumsy script alone doesn’t, however, ruin a film that has two things going for it. The plausibility of the performances for one. Hemsworth has all the front to carry off a convincing portrayal of James Hunt. Bruehl’s portrayal of Lauda is a masterclass. And Maria Lara and Wilde successfully capture the frustrations and concerns of the drivers’ wives Marlene Knaus and Suzy Miller. Neither of whom would be married to Lauda and Hunt by the turn of the millennium.
The second note of quality is the film’s recreation of the racing scenes. I could say they’re more exciting than the real thing, but then watching snooker is more exciting than modern day Formula 1. Howard places cameras in every conceivable position bar the drivers’ helmets. The mixing of original footage with the film’s action is seamless and on several occasions had me wondering whether I was watching the real thing or the movie. (And if you don’t like your realism too realistic, you might want to avoid the scene where a hospitalised Lauda has his lungs vacuumed to remove liquid toxins breathed in during the crash.)
At the end of Rush I felt like I wanted to watch it all over again, in spite of the misfiring script. It was rivetting, pacy, and both men had a certain charm making their screen presence welcome. Maybe the story stuck a little too close to the relationship between Lauda and Hunt and could have allowed itself to stray a little further into the conditions of motor racing during that time. (An almost criminal attitude towards driver safety, or everyone’s safety for that matter judging by the cameramen lying on the grass at the side of the track). Too technical, you say, too sport specific. Well, not so fast. After all it was the dangers of the sport that influenced these two drivers in different ways. Hunt used the danger as a badge of honour, a magnet with which he enticed the girls, enhanced his persona of dashing daredevil. Lauda measured risk, (20% and no more) and disciplined himself to drive in a way that eliminated risk. You can’t win if you keep crashing.
And thus we come back to the mortal question. At the end of this high fuelled madness, Hunt was dead at the age of 45 and Lauda almost had his head burned off. So, in the end who was right? Live fast and die young or live long and carry with you the scars of a lifetime? Lauda covers his scars with a baseball cap and charges over a million dollars to advertise on the front of it. Hunt, well let’s say there are no advertisements on the urn containing his ashes.
But in spite of all that, I bet most of you reading this still feel yourselves drawn towards Hunt. Which just goes to show that humans are a funny old lot when it comes to life and death. Most of us want to live fast and die young, but most of us will never have the courage to do so.