First, a confession: I love cars and I love driving cars fast (I think I’d be overselling my ability and experience if I called it racing). So Rush was an easy sell for me. That said, I think it’s hard to make a biopic about Formula 1 drivers without making a bad Formula 1 movie, a bad biopic, or both.
Senna is obviously the gold standard of F1 movies, but since it’s a documentary, I feel it has three advantages. First, the footage looks real . . . because it is. Second, you can get away with expository statements like “Senna’s dream was to win the World Championship” because it’s a documentary, and you’re watching home movie footage of Senna in a go-kart rather than two characters talking. And third, you know it’s what actually happened, not what Hollywood “wanted” to happen. So while an easy sell, I was nervous that Rush would be unable to overcome these disadvantages.
On the first, Rush succeeds. The racing scenes are incredibly well shot. I actually paid money to see Driven (written by Sylvester Stallone, directed by Renny Harlin, and starring two CGI Indycars) in theaters, so I know what bad racing scenes look like. These are real cars – some are even historic 1970s F1 cars – with real drivers. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl are actually driving them in and out of the pits. Some of the races splice in original 8mm footage. And the CGI appears to be limited to backgrounds and effects. The end result looks real and feels pretty visceral.
On the second, it’s not as successful. But I don’t hold that against it. They say movies should show, not tell. A lesser movie may have allowed the sportscasters covering the races to serve as the narrators, but not here. That said, there’s still no easy way to show that Niki Lauda was as talented an engineer as he was driver. So Rush has to include a scene where he introduces his astounded F1 team to the benefits of lightweight magnesium parts in F1 cars. For a lot of reasons, I doubt this actually happened. At least no one ever delivers a line like “Hunt is all heart, but Lauda is all head.”
On the third, while Rush isn’t exactly what happened, it’s close. Peter Morgan, the screenwriter, also wrote Frost/Nixon (which is close to what happened), The Queen (which isn’t exactly what happened), and The Last King of Scotland (which is decidedly not what happened at all). Here I think he simplifies Hunt and Lauda’s relationship: they dislike each other personally, they become rivals professionally, they begin to respect each other, and they become (sort of) friends. This was an easy arc for the viewer to follow, but isn’t exactly what happened. Hunt and Lauda actually shared an apartment as young drivers, Ferrari (not Lauda) reported the violation that disqualified Hunt in Spain, and other drivers (not Hunt) criticized Lauda for trying to cancel the Nurburgring race. (I was totally disappointed that one of my favorite scenes – Hunt attacking the reporter who insulted Lauda – never happened; the reporter actually did say that, though.) In the end, I think their real relationship was too complicated for the movie to present.
Which is too bad, since that’s the part I enjoyed the most. I actually had a similar relationship with a coworker (and my job is more dangerous than your average office, so the stakes were a little higher than misplaced TPS reports) – I hated, envied, pitied, respected, lived with, drank with, fought with, competed against, and sometimes even liked this guy. Some people thought we were friends, others bitter rivals, but no one really understood it. In the end, I’m not sure a movie could tell, let alone show, that complex a relationship.