Sport is full of infamous rivalries, but few sports push their players to the limits of life and death. Formula 1 racing is one of them.
Howard's film is based on real life events from the World Championship of 1976, in which Britain's James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austria's Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) were involved in a bitter rivalry for pole position. The intense performances from both actors are remarkable: Hemsworth as the charming, egotistical lady's man Hunt who revels in fame and swaggers onto the track; Brühl as the technical and calculating rat-faced Lauda who constantly measures the risks. Hunt is the extrovert, Lauda is the more ambiguous introvert. Together, there's is a turbulent relationship of yin and yang, each man pushing their cars and themselves to the limit in every race.
Howard's cinematography truly captures the rush, noise and excitement of racing. Low-lying cameras and point-of-view shots put the audience in the centre of the action, using fast-paced editing and jaunty angles to emphasise a real sense of speed. The use of sound, too, shudders through the speakers - the roar of the engines and Hans Zimmer's thundering score paralleling close-up shots of every rattle and click of the gears, every twist and turn of the steering. The use of filters and stock footage also add an authentic 70s twist. Rush is an incredibly visceral experience.
At it's core, though, this is a film that explores what it means to be competitive and, in turn, notions of masculinity. Playboy Hunt may sleep around off the track, but women only prove to be a distraction to his winning ways. To be a contender means to be focused and alone - except, of course, for your rival. Over the course of the film, the two men come to appreciate their symbiotic relationship as each is dependent on the other to thrive on the track. As Lauda claims towards the end, having a nemesis may seem a curse but it can be a blessing - it's competition that pushes both Hunt and Lauda to the limits of life and death. Equally, if one man tragically fails, how responsible is the other for taking his rival off the racetrack - and getting him back on?
Rush doesn't quite get under the skin of its protagonists, but it remains a tightly-focussed thrill-ride of a drama that is never less than gripping, intense and exhilarating.