A titanic contest on the racing strip

A titanic contest on the racing strip

Rush
English (U/A) ¬¬¬¬¬
Directed: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Alexandra Maria Lara

On the surface, Formula 1 racing may be all about a dozen-odd drivers, those privileged few, running relentless circles on a closed track, addicted to the high octane of top speed.

But look beyond the relentless shuffling of feet on pedals, the perfected shifts of the gearstick, and the sport — like any great tale of endeavour — becomes the enabler of human crisis and all the minute, enthralling components which make up the human condition.

In the new Ron Howard film, Rush, this crisis is centered squarely on the bitter 1976 rivalry between the rising British F1 superchamp, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and the methodical Austrian world champion, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).

If sport is man’s allegorical attempt to equal warfare without the bloodshed, F1 is his attempt to capture the lethal spirit of knightly contest, where men, equipped with marvels of technology, battled for glory.

The last occasion when knightly contest was held in such high regard was during the Great War in the skies over war-torn Europe. Then, men fought for the greatest prizes of all — another day of life and the adoration of the masses.

Much of this sentiment is echoed in Rush. The glory of victory through racing, however dangerous, remains high. “Men love women, but even more than that, they love cars,” says Hunt’s manager as if to explain to the fine insanity which is speed racing.

As Lauda points out in the film, every driver faced a 20 percent chance of being killed during a race.The high risk of death or injury were deemed worthy of the honours and it certainly did not stop the profits from rolling in.

The film begins with the 1 August 1976 German Grand Prix which places the two men on a collision course. But the real story begins six years earlier when a bloodied but strapping Hunt, barefoot, dressed in racing overalls, appears in the lobby of a local hospital.

His appearance charges the air with palpable sexual tension. A nurse who starts by dressing his injuries, ends by undressing herself, creating a seductive furor which as intoxicating to the audience as it is to its characters.

Hunt, a figure of adonic beauty, is a man defined by sex. His opponent, however, is a man who could not have been more different. Even as Hunt was nicknamed “King James” by the press, Lauda, a small, sallow-faced man, became known as “The Rat” — for his protruding incisors. Where Hunt crafted his winning strategy on a foundation of blunt courage, Lauda placed it on careful planning.

An early, problematic race on the Formula 3 circuit sets Lauda and Hunt on a trajectory with fate. Their high-profile obsession with beating each other pushed F1 racing into mainstream acceptance, but Ron Howard obviously had little interest in making a picture about this. Of the many tangents Mr Howard could have taken in plotting, he chose just one: the story of how two caustic enemies became unlikely friends.

Rush is a film which feels as though it is a moving piece of art, completely immersive in its experience, a two-hour film which feels like one. It is also a film which speaks about the resilience of the human spirit and the undeniable power of love.

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