Trying to dodge film reviews, I've found, is like trying to avoid hair product ads or reality shows or anything involving Miley Cyrus. It can't be done. They drift into your consciousness via TV, internet or print media. And unlike those topics, (which I find induce drowsiness or aggravation, depending on mood), the principle behind my steering clear of movie reviews is to enter the cinema with an untainted sense of anticipation.
Difficult to reach that state when the film involves a true story, and one that you know well. Ron Howard's “Rush,” which opens today in select theaters and across the country next Friday, will always face criticism from the ardent purists. Some will want to pick holes in it, say, “That's not Paul Ricard circuit, it's Brands Hatch,” or, “That car wasn't introduced until two rounds later,” or question why this incident or that incident was not included. Well, did we want this to be a comprehensive 10-hour documentary of the entire 1976 Formula 1 season that appeals only to the fraction of a fraction of the one percent of the population that is fanatical about racing history? Or did we want Howard and scriptwriter Peter Morgan to put their skills to work in presenting a heroic racing battle from the mid-'70s, and present it in a way that may draw in new fans of the sport?
Frankly, I think there's room for both type of film, but only the latter has the potential to have lasting value for the sport itself. If you're on RACER.com, it's reasonable to assume you're a race fan. I'd like to think, also, that you don't wish your love of racing to be a clandestine affair, but something that others can understand once they learn to appreciate the sport's glories and perils, its potential for both the magic and the tragic.
So let's celebrate the fact that people for whom auto racing is faceless guys driving in endless circles now have a potential entry point, thanks to “Rush”. To you and I, Niki Lauda and James Hunt are two of the icons of racing; this movie endeavors to show why this also makes them great figures in sport as a whole, and why 1976 was the apex of a rivalry that stands comparison with any in any sport. And in that regard, “Rush” deserves to be a success.
Howard captures the period superbly, when the European racing scene was hanging onto the vision of amateur “fun” at junior levels but the visionary of a true professional, Jackie Stewart, had changed the top echelon into a recognizable version of the Formula 1 we watch today. Lauda, of course, followed the Stewart template, taking his own career and mortality very seriously and reaping the rewards on track. Hunt set his own agenda, retaining his boyish Formula Ford, Formula Fun approach all the way to F1 and enjoying his rewards in the sack.
The fact that these two were polar opposites of comparable raw talent and aiming at a common goal could sound like a cliché taken from the sports movie playbook, but the differences between the Lauda approach and the Hunt approach to racing and life is not Morgan over-fictionalizing the script, but instead, a fact. OK, those who weren't there at the time are left to wonder whether Lauda, an F1 sophomore in '73, had already developed the iron will and outspokenness to be so demanding of the BRM team, or whether Hunt really was so shocked when Lord Hesketh pulled the plug on his team at the end of 1975. (Come to think of it, did James really expect that the Hesketh team had the money, drive and expertise to take on the might of Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus over the course of a whole season and thus compete for the championship? Well, maybe.)
But be in no doubt, “Rush” accurately portrays the stark contrast between their personalities. What may disappoint those who were there at the time and those who have read the appropriate books and magazines, is that these vastly different characters are portrayed as enemies here, when in reality, opposites attracted. They had hung out and gone partying together in their F3 days, and their respect for each other had long since blossomed into friendship. Leading figures in their respective teams, Ferrari and McLaren, may have despised each other, but the relationship between Lauda and Hunt was far more than just cordial and affable, even at the height of the championship battle.