CONTAINS SPOILERS AND NOISE
The secret of a sports movie - indeed, probably any movie - is that you're excited and involved in the drama even if it's based around something you've normally no interest in. Offhand I can't think of a film about football, tennis or baseball, that I've enjoyed despite my general apathy towards the game. On the other hand, Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday worked marvellously even though I have absolutely no idea what's going on in American Football; and I still loved Invictus despite having only ever been to one rugby match in my life. Maybe it's all down to my dislike of sports at school: personally I didn't learn anything from a Wednesday afternoon's cricket except just what a waste of three hours cricket could be.
Formula 1 motor racing has everything going for it: glamour, danger, split-second decisions that can mean life or death (rather than, say, not catching a ball), huge engines, deafening noise. Not that any of that helped Hollywood's last foray into F1, Renny Harlin's mostly terrible Driven, a film fatally undermined by Sylvester Stallone looking like he weighed more than his car. Ron Howard's Rush is in a completely different class, concentrating on the rivalry between British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian iceman Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), principally over the 1976 season that almost took Lauda's life in a spectacular but horrifying fireball in Germany - and even though he was out of most of the races it eventually came down to the final race in Japan, when either man could still have taken the championship....
The racing sequences themselves are dizzyingly intense, edited to an almost subliminal blur yet somehow never losing focus on where we, and they, are, with the sound of the engines cranked up to skull-shattering levels alone with a heavily percussive Hans Zimmer score. Where the film slips down is in its rather unsympathetic depiction of the two rivals (who in real life were apparently considerably better friends than they're shown to be here): Hunt is an alcoholic womaniser, Lauda an emotionless loner, and their exchanges are not so much friendly banter fuelled by mutual respect than cheap and nasty insults traded by men who genuinely hate each other. And Hunt's way with women looks horrible now, but hey, it was the Seventies and that's what things were like back then. (Besides, he looks like Thor, for goodness' sake.)
Yet for all that, Rush is terrifically exciting, even if (like me) you're not a fan of motor racing in general, and especially if (like me) you didn't know the outcome of that final race on which the Championship hinged. While the track sequences are dazzling and should definitely earn Oscar nods for editing and cinematography, it is the character drama of these two contrasting "boys with toys" that's the meat of the film. Some of these scenes work beautifully, some less so because it's hard to care very much about them, particularly when they're behaving like dicks. For much of the time, though, it's an absolute blast and one of the best films of the year: marvellously shot, well performed and as thrilling as any action movie in years. Best seen on the biggest screen you can find with the loudest sound system you can stand.