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Chris Hemsworth
Olivia Wilde
Natalie Dormer
Daniel Brühl
Alexandra Maria Lara.
Ron Howard.
Peter Morgan.
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122 minutes

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Having raced together in Formula 3 as youngsters, playboy Brit James Hunt (Hemsworth) and analytical Austrian Niki Lauda (Brühl) square up against each other in the 1976 Formula 1 World Championship. The tenth race at the Nürburgring in Germany proves critical.

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At the start of Rush, Chris Hemsworth’s James Hunt observes (in voice-over) that Formula 1 is catnip to “rebels, lunatics and dreamers... the kind of people who want to make their mark on the world and are prepared to die making that mark.” What makes men — and Rush makes it clear this is a male desire — put their lives on the line in tobacco-sponsored coffins on wheels permeates the centre of Ron Howard’s entertaining biopic. Impeccably crafted, smartly scripted and built around two superb leading performances, Rush may lack subtleties but it delivers broad, riveting drama on and off the track — even for those who can’t tell slicks from wets.

Howard’s earlier work reverberates around Rush. His debut, Grand Theft Auto, is auto-erotica (so to speak) on a miniscule budget. The Paper displays a similar interest in the processes of a profession and Apollo 13 is a previous study of men under pressure in a small metal box. Perhaps the film in Howard’s back catalogue that Rush shares most DNA with is Frost/Nixon. Sharing screenwriter Peter Morgan, both films pitch a battle of nerve and smarts between two completely different figures set against the vibrant backdrop of the swinging ’70s (Rush is particularly good at evoking the era, without throwing flared jeans and bad hair at you). Yet while Richard Nixon and David Frost traded barbs on swivel chairs, Hunt and Lauda needled each other at 200 mph, defining not only their sport and a sporting era but also each other, creating one of history’s most compelling rivalries, a collision of opposite personalities and philosophies informed by a sky-high level of talent and determination.

Structurally, Rush follows standard sports biopic procedure: the first half maps out the lives of the two combatants mirroring and intersecting each other — butting heads in Formula 3, finding their drives in Formula 1, meeting the women in their lives — until the point they are locked in full-on combat; the second follows the crucial 1976 F1 season that saw the Hunt-Lauda rivalry boil down to the final race in a rain-swept Japan. The film neatly evinces the common ground that unites the men — both come from good stock; both rejected these privileged backgrounds to pursue their dreams; both had an engaging way with the press — but creates almost two distinct films in one to display their differences.

The James Hunt strand is a tiny epic of excess. We meet him staggering into a hospital, beaten up by a jealous husband, and within moments he is urgently shagging nurse Gemma on a desk. What follows is a tale of pleasure-seeking poshos playing at motor racing, until the money runs out and Hunt upgrades to McLaren and a supermodel wife (Olivia Wilde, boasting a pitch-perfect Brit accent). As played by Hemsworth, with more confidence, sex appeal and charm than all the 007s put together, Hunt is the hedonists’ hedonist, a so-called “immortal fuck” who sports a “Sex — The Breakfast Of Champions” patch, slooshes post-vomiting with champagne and plays Scalextrics under the influence of puff. Like Hunt himself, here the feel is loose, informal, occasionally woozy. The director of The Da Vinci Code has never been more indie.

Given Hemsworth’s engaging, comfortable-in-his-skin charisma, it would be easy for Rush to dip when it cuts to the more analytical, anti-social Lauda. Yet Howard has finely calibrated his machine. The Niki Lauda strand is an unpopular, “rat-faced” man-against-the-world story, a study in a different kind of confidence. Daniel Brühl’s Lauda is a coiled spring of pragmatism and unremitting bluntness, not afraid to dub the Ferrari a “shitbox” or dob Hunt’s non-regulation car into the officials. “Are you never not an arsehole?” his teammate Clay Regazzoni (an amiable Pierfrancesco Favino) asks him, and his entire actions, from refusing to celebrate his victories or delivering perhaps the least romantic marriage proposal in cinematic history, bear this out. “Happiness is the enemy,” he tells new wife Marlene (an effective Alexandra Maria Lara). “It weakens you.” It’s Brühl’s gradual revelation of Lauda’s vulnerability that gives the film its soul. You might go in rooting for Hunt, but you’ll come out moved by Lauda.

Rush can’t swerve the sports movie staples — montages, TV commentary to keep you up to speed — but finds fresh ways to energise the racing sequences. On the track, Howard goes full Raging Bull, using every cinematic trick in the book to heighten the sense of flying around a circuit at breakneck, breaklegs, break-every-bone-in-your-body speed. Working with Danny Boyle’s cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, the director leaves no stone unturned in finding places to put a camera: the vroom lens gets on gear knobs, under foot pedals, inside helmets and even follows the drill into the wheel during a pit stop. If the images don’t propel the action fast enough, Howard uses clever sound design and pounding music (from Gimme Some Lovin’ to Hans Zimmer’s U2-esque guitar stylings) to put you in the slipstream. The result is far more immersive than any 3D you can imagine, and makes The Fast And The Furious look like The Ambling And The Disgruntled.

Yet the full-throttle thrills are tempered by a sober subtext. The spectre of death hovers over Rush like Dod Mantle’s heavily filtered rain clouds. The portents build chillingly — a fan asks Lauda to date an autograph in case it’s his last race, an argument in a drivers’ meeting about safety could have easily been ripped straight out of Senna — until Lauda’s horrific crash at the Nürburgring, the camera diving headlong into the flames, the soundtrack heavy with melting sounds. Equally his subsequent convalescence is parlayed with unblinking grimness, the ’70s procedures used to hoover his lungs coming on like some Spanish Inquisition torture implement. Mark Coulier’s intricate burnt-skin prosthetics deserve special mention.

It’s by no means a perfect flick. Some of it feels overdone — Hunt beating up a Brit journalist for disparaging Lauda’s post-accident visage rings false — and a scene towards the end at a private airport works too hard to SPELL OUT THE THEME. Still, unlike many modern filmmakers, you always feel like you are in safe hands with Howard. As with Apollo 13, he keeps things satisfying to the end, even if you know the outcome of the final race. By the time we reach the obligatory closing real-life footage relayed in jazzy split screen, Rush will make you pine for a more character-filled, glamorous era of sport — the film captures the point where sponsorship and TV are about to go haywire — but more importantly, it has replaced interest in cars careering round a track with fascination in two extraordinary lives. Laurel wreaths and champagne sprays for everyone.

It rarely deviates from formula, but Rush wins big, delivering the most exciting F1 footage created for film. Like Hunt, it is sexy, funny, full of thrills. Like Lauda, it is intelligent, a bit blunt, but ultimately touching.

Reviewed by Ian Freer

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Rush
Empire Star Rating

Incorrect Lauda Helmet

enjoyed the film but as an F1 fanatic noticed that Niki was not wearing the correct helmet. he actually wore an AGV helmet NOT a Bell ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blueboy16 at 17:04, 28 February 2015 | Report This Post

RE: Rush

The characters are pretty cartoon-ish at times, but this is a fun rivalry movie with some gripping race sequences, particularly for those that don't know anything about the sport and how the central characters ended up in real life. The over saturated digital look detracts from the period setting but the big hair and loud shirts compensate for it. The dumbed down race commentary is very annoying at times, but it's a likeable thrill ride. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by rich at 11:41, 21 June 2014 | Report This Post


Ron Howard is (perhaps) an under rated film director compared to the likes of Spielberg, Cameron, Jackson et all – but this film is pretty decent in spite of it’s overly familiar TV movie sheen. The racing scenes are excitingly staged and the fashions, 1970’s setting and soundtrack (Slade!!!) are all spot on. Add on an extra star for Daniel Bruhl’s brilliant portrayal of Nikki Lauda which (unfathomably) was completely overlooked by those sniffy Oscar-bods. Chris Hemswort... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 18:00, 06 March 2014 | Report This Post

RE: An unexpected gem.

Howard and Morgan call the movie Rush, and that's pretty much what it delivers, to no greater purpose than one of those five-hour energy shots you can buy at a deli counter, but certainly with no less of a kick. ... More

Posted by chang at 11:56, 31 December 2013 | Report This Post

An unexpected gem.

Well, what can I say, this movie left me utterly speechless. After having been intrigued by the trailer, but not being a Formula One fan; I worried my enjoyment of the film would be affected… I could not have been more wrong. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl were beyond brilliant with their performances as James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Despite the film being over two hours long, I was captivated every single second. The film begins with a glimpse into the 1976 Formula One world championsh... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gem_1995 at 15:00, 10 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Very well delivered

Decent effort,dont think you need to be a F1 fan really. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by CriticNumberOne at 01:30, 10 October 2013 | Report This Post

Very well delivered

I am no F1 fan and was about 15 at the tome of the events depicted in Rush and have no strong memory of them. Yet I enjoyed this. It captured the era very well and both drivers were very well cast indeed, throw in strong direction and cinema photography it all blends together rather well. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bretty at 23:00, 08 October 2013 | Report This Post

Easily one of the best films I have seen this year. Beautifully shot and Daniel Brühl gives an outstanding performance. This is a film I would love to see converted for the IMAX screen and the racing scenes have some of the best action I have seen in a long while. ... More

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Posted by J_BUltimatum at 21:47, 03 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Not so much of a Rush as a canter

Thanks mate. Nothing taken even if you were having a pop. ... More

Posted by C K Dexter Haven at 14:37, 02 October 2013 | Report This Post

Not so much of a Rush as a canter

Rush is an OK film with a very basic storyline (two men go at it in cars) and the thinly plotted interwoven standard TV movie fare of their 'private lives'. Chris Hemsworth's Hunt is the showier role, and quite frankly Thor himself couldn't make Hunt likeable or engaging -though Kiwi Chris does a mighty fine throw at the Home Counties accent and does his best with a caricature hump 'em, dump 'em, Hollywood version of a bad boy Brit. Daniel Brühl has the more 'actors' role as Niki Laud... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by C K Dexter Haven at 11:40, 27 September 2013 | Report This Post

Good solid biopic

Enjoyed this - the bloke who played Lauda was exceptional. Chris Hemsworth was fine though I remember James Hunt being a bit scrawny whereas Hemsworth was pretty muscular. The racing scene were great - the ominous feel pre-race in Japan was really effective. My only reservation was some of the dialogue was a bit exposition heavy and, quite a big one this, did it really happen like this? From what I've read since, Hunt and Lauda were good friends but rivals on the track and I also read they sh... More

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Posted by kenrick at 12:14, 23 September 2013 | Report This Post

Rush to watch it

An absolutely riveting movie! Excellent analysis! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ravishk at 10:39, 23 September 2013 | Report This Post

(500) Days of Thunder

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS Memoirs are never easy to execute on film. Not least of all because that whole ‘based on a true story’ hook will always present the most seasoned screenwriters with that one ever-prevailing stigma: real life events, no matter how high-impact, never dance to the narrative tune required of cinema. And, sure, enough this very fast and, climatically, very wet ride at 170mph-plus remains almost entirely dry of story drive. This is the 1970’s gorgeously s... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mark David at 14:57, 18 September 2013 | Report This Post

What a Rush!

Great film - really enjoyed it. Empire sum it up well with 'Impeccably crafted, smartly scripted and built around two superb leading performances'. Add to that some great racing scenes and you've got a really enjoyable movie here. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by trueborndjross at 13:03, 18 September 2013 | Report This Post

On this week's podcast...

chris-spoilerson-hewitt reviews rush. mute button at the ready. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by daraghfleming at 13:52, 15 September 2013 | Report This Post

On this week's podcast...

chris-spoilerson-hewitt reviews rush. mute button at the ready. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by daraghfleming at 12:47, 15 September 2013 | Report This Post

A Hunt for supremacy.

I bet the first day that Chris Hemsworth walked on set in his race driver's overalls, some funny guy probably said: 'looks like he was in a hurry to get to work' and I'm sure that after appearing mostly in family aimed superhero flicks Hemsworth really was in a rush to do a real drama. Not that there's anything wrong with Thor, but I'm sure it would be nice for him to upgrade from "God of Thunder" to the "God of Thunderous Applause at the Oscars". Hemsworth and Brühl ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jungle23 at 20:03, 14 September 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Rush

When it comes to Ron Howard delving into, whether it’s a historical piece such as the outer space-centric Apollo 13 or high-concept blockbusters like the firemen-filled Backdraft, you know he is primarily a mainstream director, someone who wants an audience whether his works are good or bad. Having previously worked with screenwriter Peter Morgan on the filmic adaptation of Morgan’s play Frost/Nixon, the two reunite but instead of politics but of the sport that is Formula One. Having raced... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 00:36, 14 September 2013 | Report This Post

Amazing Film!

I watched this at a preview last night - Solid film making...well shot and well paced...a story like this did not need fancy bells and whistles, just a Director who can deliver a great film...easily amongst one of Ron Howards best ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Alex M... at 00:14, 05 September 2013 | Report This Post

Haven't seen the film yet

Every time I saw the trailer for this Ron Howard would appear first and introduce it, and every time I cracked a smile. Arrested Development has left me incapable over hearing Howard's voice and not smirking. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by FuzzyMcfae at 14:49, 04 September 2013 | Report This Post

Winning Formula

To say that the portrayal of motorsport in film to date has been patchy is an understatement. There have been the good (Grand Prix, Le Mans, Days of Thunder – yes, I like it) the bad (Bobby Deerfield) and the downright ugly (Driven). It is a difficult sport to translate onto the silver screen, compounded by the fact that people who don’t like motor racing tend to stay away from these films in droves. (I’m not counting the Fast and the Furious franchise, by the way.) But that all changed in... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Doubledown1138 at 08:26, 04 September 2013 | Report This Post

Nothing short of outstanding.

From the first frame to the last, this film is absolutely electric, and even an unbeliever like me was hooked. If Howard can get 'me' to enjoy a movie about sport, he must be doing everything right. Rush is an absolute triumph. You need to see this film, and you need to see it on a big screen. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 00:06, 04 September 2013 | Report This Post

Almost perfect

I agree. A very insightful review. The only thing criticism I'd make is the use of 'Brit accent'. What is that? Is it someone from Orkney or Birmingham or Cardiff? Is there even such a thing? I think if you mean English because clearly that's the best and most accurate adjective to describe the accent employed in the film then please use it. ... More

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Posted by Michael Hart at 19:23, 03 September 2013 | Report This Post

Agreed, this is a great review. I haven't seen the film but I feel like I already know what to expect. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by hemibell at 16:46, 03 September 2013 | Report This Post

Agreed, this is a great review. I haven't seen the film but I feel like I already know what to expect. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by hemibell at 16:46, 03 September 2013 | Report This Post

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