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Rush reviewed

Maurice Hamilton September 2, 2013
The characterisation of James Hunt left Maurice Hamilton uncomfortable © Principal Photography

F1 fans of a certain age need to leave their memories and opinions at the cinema door when going to see Rush. When stepping into the foyer, it's necessary to carry the thought that this is a feature film and not a documentary in the mould of Senna. Do that and you will be thoroughly engaged by the extraordinary battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in 1976. Wear a metaphorical motor racing anorak and you will leave the theatre with mixed emotions.

As motor racing movies go, this is way ahead of any other; not difficult, you might say, when considering some of the dross that has gone before and the technology available to film makers today.

There is, for example, a totally realistic helicam shot of a car crashing at Hatzenbach on the Nürburgring Nordschleife when, to be best of my knowledge, no such accident occurred in 1976. Very clever editing has you believing that a scene is actually being shot on the grid at Interlagos when, in fact, the crew had to travel no further than Surrey.

The track action is melodramatic and yet believable. There are occasional cheesy scenes in sparsely populated pit lanes that remind you of Grand Prix, made in 1966. But, overall, you are swept along by a story line for which, had it not actually happened, you would dismiss the scriptwriter as a fantasist.

The treatment of Lauda's crash and his recovery are brutally realistic without being maudlin or theatrical for the benefit of lascivious entertainment. The effect of painstaking thought and research is clearly evident.

Director Ron Howard says he did not set out to create either a hero or a villain. His aim was to portray two very different characters playing out their respective seasons while competing fiercely in such public yet close confines. Howard and scriptwriter Peter Morgan achieve this brilliantly but there is no doubt, in my mind at least, that Lauda emerges as the man with whom you empathise.

Yes, the accident and Lauda's comeback play their part, as does the fact that he ultimately loses the championship. But much of the credit for generating such involuntary emotion must go to Daniel Brühl. The Spanish-born German actor captures Lauda's mannerisms and appearance with such astonishing skill you swear this is a documentary using footage of the man himself in his younger days. Perhaps, then, my partiality for the Lauda character was also encouraged by unease over the way Hunt has been portrayed.

Don't get me wrong: Chris Hemsworth is excellent and carries James off to a tee. But I felt uncomfortable with the characterisation of Hunt as a thug in a scene in which he beats up a journalist. It needs to be said straightaway that the writer deserved a good going over. But Hunt was not the man to do it.

Yes, he'd been known to thump marshals and fellow drivers but those moments usually came in the adrenalin-pumping seconds immediately after emerging from his crashed car. Hunt, apologetic after coming to blows, was never guilty of vicious, premeditated action.

I immediately thought of his mother saying that she did not recognise her son at all during a private screening of Rush. So be it because this, as mentioned, is a movie. I kept reminding myself of that as occasional technical inaccuracies were played out.

But if this is a movie, why not call the characters Rudi Schneider and Julian Blunt, or some such. To actually use their real names and fashion the actors with such precision is perplexing, particularly when it is difficult to reconcile the James Hunt most us knew with the brutish behaviour being re-enacted during that scene at Monza. It may have been a means of demonstrating Hunt's mounting sympathy with his rival post-Nürburgring, but it was crude and out of keeping with both the character and the rest of the production.

You could argue such detail is irrelevant. Members of the audience at the screening presented by F1 Racing magazine last week thought the film was first class; a cracking cinematic experience promoting motor sport in general and F1 in particular. That's what really matters.

In any case, nagging doubts are banished by a moving final scene that is both unexpected and beautifully pitched. That's the perfect way to end both this review and the best feature film you've ever seen on F1.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live
Maurice Hamilton Close
Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live