This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 15th September 2013
“The name’s Hunt – James Hunt” declares a British-accented Chris Hemsworth, in this latest role which should provide him with an excellent James Bond audition tape in years to come. Sparkly blue eyes and louche blonde hair, he bounces from girl to girl like an over-energetic Tigger. A slug of champers, a toke on a joint, and he’s ready to race.
Formula One aficionados may remember Hunt as half of one of the sport’s great rivalries of the 1970s, as he fought off competition from Team Ferrari’s top driver, the Austrian Niki Lauda (played with aplomb by the hopefully no longer underrated German actor, Daniel Bruhl. You may not remember him from such films as Goodbye Lenin! and Inglourious Basterds, but you will after this).
Like chalk and cheese – Hunt is the charismatic, risk-taking womaniser, Lauda the blunt-talking strategist – these two characters share the voiceover and screen-time in a fascinating pseudo-biopic that focuses on the most dramatic moments in their careers behind the wheel.
While fleshing out the lead personalities in lively performances which show the two young actors at the top of their game, the film also delivers thrills and spills through expertly-rendered footage of races and crashes. (To this end, the less history you know, the more heart-in-mouth your experience will be.) The supporting cast of wives and girlfriends (notably Tron Legacy’s Olivia Wilde as real-life starlet Suzy Miller, and the wonderful Alexandra Maria Lara), team mates and F1 bosses are just as credible and engaging. Even the production design is top-notch, with hairstyles and costuming that are as faithful as Hunt is not.
Little wonder that the film seems effortless in its creation – veteran director Ron Howard has assembled his own team of hotshots to bring life to a screenplay by Peter Morgan, the award-winning writer who consistently accounts for some of the best cinematic tales (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland all shone thanks to him). Hans Zimmer provides an appropriately exciting score, and the photography is superb. The multi-lingual script lends an air of arthouse to the whole affair.
In the spirit of the superb documentary Senna, Rush manages to be as much a character-driven story as a story about driving. With energy and enough dramatic tension to keep you enthralled, it’s one hell of a ride.