Rush: a thrilling but untrusty ride

Ron Howard's biopic of James Hunt and Niki Lauda's rivalry captures their racy lives. But in truth the two were good friends

Director: Ron Howard
Entertainment grade: B+
History grade: C+

In 1976, the rivalry between motor racing drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda made for a legendary Formula One season.


Reel History - Rush
James Hunt is said to have slept with 5,000 women Photograph: Snap Stills/Rex Features

The film begins with swaggering lothario James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) going to hospital, his nose bloodied by an angry husband's fist. A sexy nurse patches him up. It's not long before he's getting it on with her, too. "I have a theory about why women like racing drivers," he says in voiceover. "It's our closeness to death." Maybe it also has something to do with how much they look like Chris Hemsworth. The scene is fictional, but not out of historical character. It is claimed (though not on any clear authority) that the real Hunt slept with 5,000 women during his lifetime, which if he started at 16 would have worked out as one every couple of days. Well, it's good to have a hobby.


Reel History - Rush
Hunt said of Lauda: 'We raced against each other but we also teamed up as mates' Photograph: Jaap Buitendijk/AP/Universal Pictures

Hunt meets Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) when they're both racing Formula Three. Hunt is all hunky blond entitlement, champagne-swigging and recklessness; Lauda is disciplined, obsessive and – as everyone keeps reminding him – kind of ratty-looking. They're also both supremely arrogant alpha males, and loathe each other on sight. In fact, judging by Gerald Donaldson's biography of Hunt, their rivalry was quite friendly. Hunt won a Formula Two race against Lauda at Oulton Park in 1972; Donaldson notes that Lauda and another driver, Ronnie Peterson, congratulated him and "were genuinely happy to see James finally get a share of the success they felt he deserved". Hunt – who was not in the habit of sugar-coating anything he said to the press – said: "I got on very well with Niki and always had done since we first met in Formula Three and gypsied around Europe together. We raced against each other but we also teamed up as mates, not just casual acquaintances." To be fair, accuracy on this point would make for a much duller film.


Reel History - Rush
Hunt's marriage to Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) was short-lived – she left him for Richard Burton Photograph: Snap Stills/Rex Features

Hunt's patron, Alexander Hesketh (Christian McKay), runs out of money. "Probably have to sell this place," he says gloomily, glancing around his enormous stately home. In fact, Lord Hesketh did not sell Easton Neston – one of the most important private houses in England, thought to have been designed entirely by Nicholas Hawksmoor – until 2005, when it was snapped up by a lucky Russian businessman. With his big shiny car taken away, Hunt slumps into a haze of booze and drugs. This doesn't do much for his already ill-advised marriage to model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). When confronted by the manchild she married looking all Kurt Cobainy in a shapeless cardigan, sullenly swigging whisky and ignoring her while playing with his Scalextric, she leaves him for Richard Burton. This is accurate.


Reel History - Rush
Lauda is disciplined and obsessive where Hunt is all champagne-swilling recklessness Photograph: Jaap Buitendijk

The film suggests a shade more romance for Lauda, showing him thrown together by fate with the beautiful, patient Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara). In real life, he summarily dumped his devoted girlfriend of eight years for her. "I had a girlfriend before I met Marlene. And I loved Marlene more than her, so everything was simple then," the real Lauda said bluntly. Peter Morgan's smartly constructed screenplay and Daniel Brühl's exceptional performance capture Lauda's brusque manner perfectly – perhaps because Lauda himself advised on the film. "When I first saw the movie, I said, 'Shit! That's really me,'" Lauda said.


Reel History - Rush
Winner takes all … the two men raced against each other throughout the 70s Photograph: Jaap Buitendijk/AP

The rivalry between the two men reaches fever pitch in 1976, when they race each other for the title of world champion. The film's pivotal moment is the infamous German Grand Prix at Nürburgring in 1976, which it recreates with terrific historical precision and cinematic flair, both technical and artistic. Without giving too much away, there is no need to deviate from what really happened at Nürburgring, or thereafter – it really is just an incredibly good story.


Rush takes a mechanic's wrench to a few of the facts, but it puts what is left of them together into a strikingly accomplished and watchable film.


Alex von Tunzelmann

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Rush: watch an exclusive clip from Ron Howard's drama about the rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda

Watch a clip from Rush, Ron Howard's drama about the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda

30, Aug, 2013 @10:56 AM

Rush – review

Ron Howard's movie about 1970s British swashbucking F1 star James Hunt and his antler-clashing rivalry with the icy Niki Lauda is a fast and furious treat, writes Peter Bradshaw

Peter Bradshaw

12, Sep, 2013 @2:30 PM

Article image
Daniel Brühl: Rush, Niki Lauda and me

In Ron Howard's new film, Daniel Brühl plays Formula One driver Niki Lauda the year he fought James Hunt for the championship – and suffered a horrific and disfiguring crash. He talks to Alex Godfrey about meeting the straight-talking racing legend

Alex Godfrey

05, Sep, 2013 @4:51 PM

Article image
Rush: Toronto 2013 – first look review

Henry Barnes: Ron Howard's 70s-set formula one thriller about the rivalry between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda is supercharged fun, even if it may not depict the era with total accuracy

Henry Barnes

09, Sep, 2013 @3:34 PM

Article image
Rush – review
Ron Howard's populist take on James Hunt and Niki Lauda's 70s rivalry is a thrilling hymn to male pride and motor sport, writes Mark Kermode

Mark Kermode

14, Sep, 2013 @11:07 PM

Article image
Rush's soap washes away subtleties of James Hunt and Niki Lauda | Richard Williams
Richard Williams: The racing is superb as is Daniel Brühl's performance but the film is undermined by clunky dialogue and fundamental untruths

Richard Williams

06, Sep, 2013 @4:04 PM

Article image
Rush star Chris Hemsworth: 'Formula One became cautious and clinical' - video interview

Actors Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan, talk about their acclaimed formula one thriller Rush

Henry Barnes

11, Sep, 2013 @8:00 AM

Article image
Oscar predictions 2014: Rush

Our series continues with Ron Howard's high-speed drama about rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda

Henry Barnes

30, Aug, 2013 @3:36 PM

Article image
Rush – Toronto 2013: first look review

Ron Howard's tale of the rivalry between chalk-and-cheese 70s racing drivers is a high-speed delight

Henry Barnes

06, Sep, 2013 @3:26 PM

First trailer out for Formula 1 film Rush
Ben Child: Ron Howard's action-biopic tells of rivalry and debauchery between Hunt and Lauda

Ben Child

09, Apr, 2013 @12:49 PM