Rush – the F1 Fanatic review

F1 review

Rush: Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki LaudaTwo years after the treat that was Senna, Formula One is back in the cinemas again.

Rush takes its story from the celebrated 1976 championship showdown between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. But while Senna relied on archive footage, Rush director Ron Howard opted for the more challenging route of filming the story.

This is something few film makers have attempted and even fewer have successfully accomplished. John Frankenheimer’s crew followed the championship around the world to film material for his 1966 feature Grand Prix. But they had the benefit of creating a film about contemporary cars and circuits: for Rush, the action is set in the past.

Anyone familiar with the dubious track record of major feature films about motor racing will know Rush has the potential to be an excruciating, embarrassing mess. Grand Prix may be a visual feast but the turgid, plot-less clunker of a story takes over two-and-three-quarter hours to tell us not very much.

F1 has dodged disaster with Hollywood in the past. A Sylvester Stallone project which was originally supposed to be about grand prix racing ended up with IndyCar as its subject and turned out to be a dire, unwatchable pastiche.

Happily, the makers of Rush have largely skirted the many pitfalls which confronted them. This is especially impressive because in trying to recreate races which happened almost four decades ago there were plenty of opportunities to get it wrong.

Howard said that one of the most difficult elements to get right was the cars. A mixture of replicas and reconditioned old cars were used and they look the part just as much as Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl do as Hunt and Lauda.

RushBut finding ‘body doubles’ for seventies-era tracks such as Monza, Brands Hatch, Fuji and the rest may have been an even tougher task.

While the Nurburgring Nordschleife looks as much a relic now as it did then, many of the other tracks still hold top-level international motor races and therefore have had their facilities and upgraded several times since Hunt and Lauda raced on them. At least one – the Crystal Palace track which is the scene of an F3 race early in the film – fell out of use decades ago.

Other circuits such as Oulton Park and Mallory Park were pressed into service to generate more race footage. A dedicated race crew filmed much of this action which is mixed into the rest of the film along with a smattering – about two minutes’ worth – of original footage.

The treatment of the Nurburgring and Fuji races are far and away the best. The film begins with a glimpse of the extravagant seventies racers authentically flying through the air at the Nordschleife, then tells the events leading up to that point as a flashback which occupies the first half. Lauda’s crash is painstakingly re-enacted so well you find yourself edging back from the flames, expecting to feel the heat.

The rain-drenched Fuji decider makes a superb climax to the film which I will not give away too many details of, other than to say the race drivers who were pressed into service did fine work in recreating the moves their counterparts performed in real life.

However when it comes to the track action there is an inevitable problem for people like you and I who read sites like F1 Fanatic: We’ve all seen thousands of races and we can all tell when ‘Fuji’ is actually Mallory, spot when they’ve not got the look of Monza quite right and so on.

While much of the race action is superb, all it takes is a few dodgy frames to disrupt the spectacle. Though I can only watch it through my own eyes, I suspect it won’t just be the petrolheads in the crowd who find the action wanting in places. The special effects in one early crash were alarmingly unconvincing, leading me to worry how the rest of the film was going to look – fortunately it improved considerably from then on.

Rush: Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki LaudaThe high level of attention paid to authenticity extends beyond the race sequences, The depiction of the two main characters is mostly believable and faithful.

From the moment Hemsworth introduces himself James Bond-style (“Hunt. James Hunt”) the Hunt iconography is rattled through like a checklist: the ‘superstar’ nickname, ‘Sex: Breakfast of Champions’ badge, and pre-race gargle, toke and vomit all present and correct. And, of course, copious amounts of shagging.

According to Howard, some of the investors in the film wanted to see an American playing Lauda, even if he had to adopt an unconvincing cod-Austrian accent. Thankfully they went for Bruhl instead, who appears to have been poured into the skin of Lauda, so realistically does Bruhl adopt his distinctive clipped tones and unsympathetic air.

The film makers have done excellent service to the protagonists by not obliging the audience to root for either of them. Easier, lazier paths were available: cast Hunt sympathetically as the charming upstart who came from nowhere to deservedly beat his dour rival; or insist Lauda was the true champion, robbed by a talentless playboy due to grave misfortune.

Instead we get a more balanced depiction of the pair and their rivalry which was professional and underpinned by mutual respect and an almost trench warfare mentality imposed on drivers by the dangers of the era.

The screenplay clunks in places – we are spoon-fed tit bits like “that’s Clay [Regazzoni], he’s a senior figure in Formula One”. The juxtaposition of Hunt grinding away at yet another air stewardess with the firing pistons of an engine was rather cheesy. And the concluding scene felt like someone had walked in with a large sign reading “this is what the preceding two hours was all about”.

Rush: Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki LaudaI enjoyed the humorous touches, particularly Stephen Mangan’s cameo as Alistair Caldwell, grizzling about Emerson Fittipaldi’s defection to “Coper-fucking-sucar”, and a sullen Hunt playing with a Scalextric while he waits for the phone to ring. The tone becomes more serious after Lauda’s crash and the scenes depicting his agonising convalescence are the film’s best moments.

As Rush draws its inspiration from real events the film makers faced the inevitable decisions over how far the facts should be stretched to make for a compelling story. I wasn’t alive during the season in question, but having read a lot about it including several books by and about both drivers, it seemed a fair and faithful depiction of events.

At first I balked at the omission of the 1976 Brands Hatch race. The start-line crash, the crowd clamouring for Hunt to be allowed to race, his win and eventual disqualification, all seemed to offer potent material. On reflection, given the difficulties of re-creating the crash and the complexities it would introduce into the plot of a film which is already two hours long, leaving it out was probably a sensible decision.

Of course some sequences are not totally accurate, and on some occasions events have been transposed or even invented. Still, I don’t think a person who was previously ignorant of the events in the film would come away from it with an unduly false impression of either driver.

I appreciate the scope of the technical challenge the film makers set themselves with Rush, how successfully they realise it, and the respect with which they treat the true story.

I suspect Rush will find more favour among mainstream fans than by dedicated F1 followers. But it is once again a treat to see a film about Formula One in cinemas and that wouldn’t be the case if it failed to pay proper respect to its subject matter. It does, yet never fails to deliver the exhilaration and entertainment you expect from a film called Rush.

F1 Fanatic rating

Rating four out of five


Director: Ron Howard
Distributor: Exclusive Media
Released: 13th September 2013 (UK and Ireland)
Running time: 122 minutes


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53 comments on Rush – the F1 Fanatic review

  1. Proesterchen (@proesterchen) said on 2nd September 2013, 13:21

    I don’t get the idea of making a racing movie, period.

    The people who care about racing will never be pleased because of necessary short-cuts and omissions, unavoidable goofs, and plain old stupidity put in ‘to spice things up’, while people who don’t care for racing just wont go see it for that very reason.

    As such, you review makes me hopeful that this wont be another ‘Driven’, but I’d be surprised to see it be financially successful.

    • It promotes our sport. The one we love and live. Rush will be a great asset for new /young F1 fans across the world. We need a larger community, lots of seats remain empty on lots of tracks. Cinema is the best way to give people emotions. Just look at IndyCar with Turbo or Nascar with Cars, it’s great and fun; Rush is a sporting-racing thriller, great.

      • Libellula (@ladyf1fanatic) said on 2nd September 2013, 15:01

        Best answer ever @jeff1s
        I recognize myself in this moment, exactly the way I feel as a fan! F1 isn’t enough close to supporters, some fans can’t even afford to buy a ticket and watch a race live; every little news, event or promotion is welcome… So we need this kind of attraction for all the new dudes/dudettes to the sport. Formula One is back this week-end! Bring on Monza! ;-)

      • Patrick (@paeschli) said on 2nd September 2013, 19:55

        I agree too. I’m really excited by the idea of seeing a film with camera views we will never see on a Formula One race. The FOM way of watching is much too streamlined and predicatble …
        Also, I’m a 90’s kid so I’m very curious in what way Formula One was different back then. #excited :D

    • pSynrg (@psynrg) said on 2nd September 2013, 13:43

      It’s not really about racing though is it. It’s about the people who race.

      Racing should always be secondary in a movie and serve only as the platform that defines these individuals.

    • Filmmakers set out to tell a story about characters in a visual way, sports – especially one as spectacular as F1 – can serve as a great vehicle if done properly.

      I don’t know anything about baseball and don’t care about the sport at all, yet ‘Moneyball’ released last year was a fantastic movie about that subject. While baseball might have been all they talked about, the characters and their reasons for being involved is what makes you care. If done properly, a movie transcends its subject and the themes pull you through whatever it’s about. If Rush turns out to be good, it’s not because it’s about F1.

      I still have my doubts, from what I’ve seen so far it looks too action driven, and otherwise overly sentimental. But he did do the rather successful character story ‘A Beautiful Mind’… I’ll give this one a shot.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 2nd September 2013, 13:54

      From the reviews from motorsport journalists I have seen so far, this movie does as best a job as possible while filming something that happened almost 40 years ago.

      I think its great to see some iconic moments of the sport relived this way. Who knows, we might even see a renewed interest in motor sport from it as well, and have a movie that is more than X-men 8, Batman Restart V, Superman Resurrected, Rambo meets Arnie to beat Sly, toystory 7, or IceAge-Back to the future.

    • JCost (@jcost) said on 3rd September 2013, 8:54

      I do care about racing movies.

  2. Aditya F. Yahya (@adityafakhri) said on 2nd September 2013, 13:59

    just a question: why would you review a movie which is not released yet?

  3. stefano (@alfa145) said on 2nd September 2013, 14:49

    I used to love Driven by Stallone!
    I still do, actually.. a bit trash but still very enjoyable to me!

    • Libellula (@ladyf1fanatic) said on 2nd September 2013, 15:12

      I liked it too, watched it twice; then people around me kept telling Driven was the ‘worst action’ movie ever and I should be ashamed to even mention it. I’m happy theres till someone who can say the same. I remembered this movie very well, it doesn’t matter at all if there were too many special effects or the story was lacking rhythm. Stallone did his best with waht was at disposal!
      I wish i was courageous enough to admit my love of this movie, plus it has featured some of my favs (Stallone, Alesi and crazy Montoya) back in the day… Well I think, I’ll go out there and shout it to the world!
      I love ‘Driven’ I don’t care, I love it…

      • Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 2nd September 2013, 16:51

        I do as well. I think whoever cut that film should be hanged (j/k), because most of the deleted scenes are great and add depth to the story – particularly to that of Stallone. They shouldn’t have sticked to the cheaply-devised CGI scenes as rigidly as they had done and the movie would have been rated higher by some notches, I think.

        I think it perfectly encapsulated the stress-related side of things – managers, media and PR, etc. expectations and its pressure – and then used Stallone as a mercurial man to teach how to focus as a driver on the right things, such as your own performance, shut the external expectations out and focus on improving your act – which is a life lesson in general.

        Rush, I expect it to shed light on the immense courage a driver needed – and in some categories still very much needs – to climb into a car in an environment full of life-threatening danger. I never had passions which I was highly attached to AND were highly dangerous as well, so I was never put to test how much danger I would take to follow my heart, but I guess it’s just as a big balancing act as big a challenge focusing on your own expectations from yourself is, as depicted in Driven. I eagerly await the former as well.

        • Jay Menon (@jaymenon10) said on 3rd September 2013, 0:28

          Driven is watchable..but just turn your brain off. I’d much rather watch Talladega Nights!

          At the end of the day, the greatest film about racing will be Days of Thunder..COLE TRICKLE BABY! YEAH!….hahahaha

  4. ScuderiaVincero (@scuderiavincero) said on 2nd September 2013, 15:09

    I’m getting a bit pensive as I read this. I recall my comment from months ago saying “spoiler alert, James Hunt wins the world championship.” It’s also been over a year since you showed us pictures of them filming at the Nordschleife. I have got a lot to look forward to this month, and I certainly hope I could catch Rush in the cinema.

  5. Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 2nd September 2013, 15:18

    Bruhl is one of the best actors in the world.

  6. Libellula (@ladyf1fanatic) said on 2nd September 2013, 15:23

    I’ll watch the Rush movie also because I’d like to have a deeper experience of Niki Lauda’s crash… Books, articles and YouTube videos were never enough for me. I was really curious to look after actor D. Brühl. New sexy boy of Hollywood grabs too much attention, I mean Hemsworth, but it’s the dark ‘aura’ surrounding his colleague I am more interested in!

  7. TMF (@tmf42) said on 2nd September 2013, 15:34

    Ron Howard’s “Beautiful Mind” was good but distorted the actual story and I was kind of afraid he’d do the same with Rush. But now I’m intrigued and will see for myself

  8. F1 Fan said on 2nd September 2013, 15:58

    I’m in this somewhere, in the grandstand, along with some friends.

    The Fuji pits was actually Blackbushe Airport, Hampshire … :)

  9. spoutnik (@spoutnik) said on 2nd September 2013, 16:15

    And, of course, copious amounts of shagging.

    That is what I fear.
    Nowadays every single western movie features sub-porn to sustain a typically poor scenario.

  10. dennis (@dennis) said on 2nd September 2013, 16:36

    I was hoping and waiting for a review from you, Keith before the movie came out. Well done, thanks for the insight.
    Ron Howard admitted he wasn’t even a motor racing fan, which I guess is why he looks at a lot of details differently than racing fans do. Like using stand-ins for tracks that don’t exist anymore.
    I was expecting Howard would also change a lot of things from a historical perspective, but the more I read, the better it sounds.
    I can’t wait to see the film!

  11. I am really looking forward to the movie. The US release date has been bumped up from 20th to 27th. But definitely I will be watching the movie. It is fun to watch a racing movie. Hope it is not Rated R so that I can take my children to it.

  12. andae23 (@andae23) said on 2nd September 2013, 16:56

    Instead we get a more balanced depiction of the pair and their rivalry which was professional and underpinned by mutual respect and an almost trench warfare mentality imposed on drivers by the dangers of the era.

    That’s the sentence that did it for me – thank goodness no Hollywoodized rivalry.

    I’m also looking forward to Alastair Caldwell: Peter Windsor interviewed him recently and he is the exact sort of person you want in your film to liven things up. “We only had three sets of tyres available, but well, we needed more, so we went out on a fourth set, but them Ferrari engineers had someone sitting at the pit exit who said ‘hey, they’re using a fourth set on James his car!’ so we quickly filed off the paint the FIA uses to mark the tyres, hid the tyres away and said ‘that Ferrari guy must be mistaken, cause we didn’t do anything wrong! Look, right here, we only have three sets of tyres.’ “

  13. Andrew Simmons said on 2nd September 2013, 17:23

    So would you say its better than that god awful Senna fake-umentary? I mean, there was so much pro-senna sucking up it made me want to vomit. I was worried that this would be too glam and hollywood.

    • Jody McLeod (@) said on 2nd September 2013, 17:49

      The film was called “Senna”. It wasn’t “Prost is Awesome” or “Mansell”. Usually a documentary focuses on a subject and promotes that idea, so “Senna” being pro-Senna kinda makes sense, does it not?

      • And now you know how most of world history was written! It has always been the sensational story that get’s told. In today’s world, it would be done in three minutes on YouTube. Ron has missed the boat again. I suspect Bernie, or someone else in F1, actually paid Howard to make the movie.

      • Proesterchen (@proesterchen) said on 2nd September 2013, 18:52

        I’d rather have seen a more nuanced view of Ayrton Senna and how he fit into the decade+ of Formula 1 he competed in.

        I can see how the realities of life lead to the product ‘Senna’ became instead, but it still left me wanting.

  14. StephenH said on 2nd September 2013, 18:53

    Why has nobody here mentioned Steve McQueen’s “Le Mans” yet ?? Granted it was about sportscars and not F1, but as a race movie it’s still the best in my book.

  15. If they tried to recreate the 2012 Brazilian GP, I’d probably get so fed up with the mistakes I’d walk out of the room. But being about a season which I know in general lines, and which I have seen little footage of, as well as drivers who were out of the sport decades before I was born (Hunt actually died before I was born), I don’t know their characters as well as I do about today’s drivers, so I should enjoy it and not worry about spotting the incongruences I wouldn’t notice. Look forward to watching it!

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