x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The new Formula One movie really is a Rush

Chris Hemsworth, left, and Daniel Bruhl in a scene from Rush. AP Photo / Universal Pictures, Jaap Buitendijk
Chris Hemsworth, left, and Daniel Bruhl in a scene from Rush. AP Photo / Universal Pictures, Jaap Buitendijk

Two years ago, the film Senna proved beyond all doubt that cinema could do justice to motorsport. A beautifully shot documentary, it charted the rise and untimely death of one of racing’s most talented drivers, combining stunning on-board footage of Formula One racers and an emotional punch that left cinemagoers gasping and choking back the tears. It remains an incredible piece of work but served as a reminder that, when it comes to Hollywood, so little has been done to accurately reflect the excitement and danger of the world’s most glamorous sport.

So it was with some degree of trepidation that I dragged my long-suffering wife to see Rush last weekend. Like Senna, it tells a true story of derring-do, track rivalry and tragedy, but it’s mainly reenacted by actors and directed by a man who, by his own admission, knows precious little about cars or motorsport. But the man in charge of directing duties is Ron Howard, who brought brilliance to the silver screen with Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon, both of them true stories, so I hoped that this tale of the rivalry between the F1 drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt was in safe hands.

I need not have worried, for it is an absolute triumph. Eschewing the usual Hollywood clichés, Howard has opted to tell it how it was, conjuring a surreal 1970s vibe with accurate hairstyles and clothing, perfect recreations of contemporary F1 cars and brilliant acting on the parts of everyone, particularly the two leads, Daniel Brühl (Lauda) and Chris Hemsworth (Hunt).

The film concentrates on the 1976 F1 season, when the relatively novice Austrian driver Niki Lauda was obliterating the competition in his Ferrari. A serious-minded man of extraordinary talent, Lauda nevertheless was aware that there was always a high chance of him being killed while participating in this most dangerous of sports. Before the start of the German Grand Prix that year, he attempted to lead a revolt to cancel the race because the circuit in question (the deathly Nürburgring) was difficult at the best of times and it happened to be pouring with rain.

His attempts were duly noted, but he was outnumbered and the race went ahead. On the second lap, Lauda’s Ferrari suffered a mechanical failure and he crashed, almost dying in the ensuing inferno. The accident has been recreated in horrific, harrowing detail, causing many of the audience to put hands over their eyes, but we all know the outcome, and despite the awfulness of what happened, the result for Lauda could have been much, much worse.

I was driving at the Nürburgring in spring last year, the day after filming of this pivotal scene had wrapped, and each time I passed the charred piece of track where the crash had been committed to celluloid, a shiver ran down my back. It really is the most formidable racetrack, and seeing exactly where Lauda had almost perished 36 years beforehand definitely sharpened my focus and kept me from doing anything too foolhardy. Seeing it on a cinema screen simply added to the chilling reality.

But Rush is about more than one man crashing a car and his rival clinching the championship. It’s about the indefatigable human spirit and the will to do whatever it takes to win. It’s soaked in atmosphere, full of humour and is – according to Lauda, who helped with the script and Brühl’s accent – totally accurate except for exaggerating the bitterness between the two drivers. They were actually on extremely good terms, something that does become clear before the end credits roll.

For anyone with a desire to see a film that gets the adrenalin pumping, Rush is a must. There’s enough going on to keep even the most hardened motorsport detractor entertained and, unlike previous Hollywood rubbish like the Tom Cruise disaster that was Days of Thunder, it moves along at a rollicking pace and never once leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Make sure that you see it while it’s still being shown at UAE cinemas, because it just won’t be the same on a small screen. And yes, my wife loved it, too.

khackett@thenational.ae