Rush is an apt title for director Ron Howard’s latest film about a pair of race car drivers in the 1970s, as that is exactly what viewers will experience—a serious shot of adrenaline. Based on the real-life rivalry between world champs James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), every scene at a variety of European tracks captures the energy, excitement, and raw power of Formula One racing. The problem is what happens when the story moves off the asphalt.
Despite an electrifying performance from Hemsworth (better known as Thor), who backs up his megawatt smile with bucketsful of charm, the film devotes far too much time to Hunt, presenting him as a character we’ve seen countless times before. Howard spares no screen time emphasizing the British playboy’s predilection for booze, drugs, and sex (especially sex—Hunt’s multiple explicit dalliances would easily earn the film an R even without the addition of bad language and one particularly bloody car crash). Worse, the film seems to suggest there’s something admirable about Hunt’s self-destructive lifestyle.
Far more interesting is Lauda. Though a disciplined, serious-minded son of wealthy Austrian industrialists, he nonetheless pursues a career he calculates carries a 20 percent chance of killing him every time he gets behind the wheel. What drives Lauda to take such risks? In the beginning, it seems to be his desire to push the machines he loves to maximum performance. But as the story progresses, it’s his desire to beat Hunt—to prove that precision and perseverance will ultimately triumph over raw talent and nerve. In fact, when Lauda does lose, it’s only because he places a higher value on life than his opponent and makes a responsible, adult choice.
Had Howard focused more on Lauda or given us something more than a skin-deep analysis of Hunt, his film might have had something insightful to offer about the nature of competition. As it is, Rush merely takes the audience on a thrilling but forgettable high-speed ride.