Given the movies’ love of car chases, you’d think more films would be made about the professionals who do it for a living. Scratching an itch, this Formula One drama has a lot going for it at the starting line: a real-life 1976 rivalry between magnetic competitors James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl); a burnished, beer-commercial glow courtesy of inspired cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle; and the director of the original Grand Theft Auto, Ron Howard. Hunt, a playboy, and Lauda, severe and calibrated, make for obvious friction: Rush’s coleads could have used a few more moments of quiet intensity—they’re saddled with constantly delivering theses on the quest for victory—yet neither one embarrasses himself.
But something’s gone horribly wrong on the track, and not just the expected fiery spinouts. The plot lacks the grease-stained poetry of better gearhead clashes (such as the extraordinary 2010 documentary Senna); cynically, Rush seems to be courting a video-game crowd impatient for another CGI-heavy Fast & Furious. Howard’s hottest point of contact comes at a press conference, where the physically mangled Lauda spits invective at a journalist asking about the state of his marriage. A more daring filmmaker would have probed Lauda’s sacrifice in a quieter follow-up scene. Instead, the movie leans on symbolic imagery that’s alternately tired and ridiculous: Hunt’s impatiently flicked cigarette lighter (yes, he’s a candle waiting to be lit) or a black-widow spider crawling up the stands of one particularly dangerous course. These are classic frenemies; their tale deserves more gas in the tank.
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