Rush – the F1 Fanatic review

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Rush: Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki LaudaTwo years after the treat that was Senna, Formula One is back in the cinemas again.

Rush takes its story from the celebrated 1976 championship showdown between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. But while Senna relied on archive footage, Rush director Ron Howard opted for the more challenging route of filming the story.

This is something few film makers have attempted and even fewer have successfully accomplished. John Frankenheimer’s crew followed the championship around the world to film material for his 1966 feature Grand Prix. But they had the benefit of creating a film about contemporary cars and circuits: for Rush, the action is set in the past.

Anyone familiar with the dubious track record of major feature films about motor racing will know Rush has the potential to be an excruciating, embarrassing mess. Grand Prix may be a visual feast but the turgid, plot-less clunker of a story takes over two-and-three-quarter hours to tell us not very much.

F1 has dodged disaster with Hollywood in the past. A Sylvester Stallone project which was originally supposed to be about grand prix racing ended up with IndyCar as its subject and turned out to be a dire, unwatchable pastiche.

Happily, the makers of Rush have largely skirted the many pitfalls which confronted them. This is especially impressive because in trying to recreate races which happened almost four decades ago there were plenty of opportunities to get it wrong.

Howard said that one of the most difficult elements to get right was the cars. A mixture of replicas and reconditioned old cars were used and they look the part just as much as Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl do as Hunt and Lauda.

RushBut finding ‘body doubles’ for seventies-era tracks such as Monza, Brands Hatch, Fuji and the rest may have been an even tougher task.

While the Nurburgring Nordschleife looks as much a relic now as it did then, many of the other tracks still hold top-level international motor races and therefore have had their facilities and upgraded several times since Hunt and Lauda raced on them. At least one – the Crystal Palace track which is the scene of an F3 race early in the film – fell out of use decades ago.

Other circuits such as Oulton Park and Mallory Park were pressed into service to generate more race footage. A dedicated race crew filmed much of this action which is mixed into the rest of the film along with a smattering – about two minutes’ worth – of original footage.

The treatment of the Nurburgring and Fuji races are far and away the best. The film begins with a glimpse of the extravagant seventies racers authentically flying through the air at the Nordschleife, then tells the events leading up to that point as a flashback which occupies the first half. Lauda’s crash is painstakingly re-enacted so well you find yourself edging back from the flames, expecting to feel the heat.

The rain-drenched Fuji decider makes a superb climax to the film which I will not give away too many details of, other than to say the race drivers who were pressed into service did fine work in recreating the moves their counterparts performed in real life.

However when it comes to the track action there is an inevitable problem for people like you and I who read sites like F1 Fanatic: We’ve all seen thousands of races and we can all tell when ‘Fuji’ is actually Mallory, spot when they’ve not got the look of Monza quite right and so on.

While much of the race action is superb, all it takes is a few dodgy frames to disrupt the spectacle. Though I can only watch it through my own eyes, I suspect it won’t just be the petrolheads in the crowd who find the action wanting in places. The special effects in one early crash were alarmingly unconvincing, leading me to worry how the rest of the film was going to look – fortunately it improved considerably from then on.

Rush: Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki LaudaThe high level of attention paid to authenticity extends beyond the race sequences, The depiction of the two main characters is mostly believable and faithful.

From the moment Hemsworth introduces himself James Bond-style (“Hunt. James Hunt”) the Hunt iconography is rattled through like a checklist: the ‘superstar’ nickname, ‘Sex: Breakfast of Champions’ badge, and pre-race gargle, toke and vomit all present and correct. And, of course, copious amounts of shagging.

According to Howard, some of the investors in the film wanted to see an American playing Lauda, even if he had to adopt an unconvincing cod-Austrian accent. Thankfully they went for Bruhl instead, who appears to have been poured into the skin of Lauda, so realistically does Bruhl adopt his distinctive clipped tones and unsympathetic air.

The film makers have done excellent service to the protagonists by not obliging the audience to root for either of them. Easier, lazier paths were available: cast Hunt sympathetically as the charming upstart who came from nowhere to deservedly beat his dour rival; or insist Lauda was the true champion, robbed by a talentless playboy due to grave misfortune.

Instead we get a more balanced depiction of the pair and their rivalry which was professional and underpinned by mutual respect and an almost trench warfare mentality imposed on drivers by the dangers of the era.

The screenplay clunks in places – we are spoon-fed tit bits like “that’s Clay [Regazzoni], he’s a senior figure in Formula One”. The juxtaposition of Hunt grinding away at yet another air stewardess with the firing pistons of an engine was rather cheesy. And the concluding scene felt like someone had walked in with a large sign reading “this is what the preceding two hours was all about”.

Rush: Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki LaudaI enjoyed the humorous touches, particularly Stephen Mangan’s cameo as Alistair Caldwell, grizzling about Emerson Fittipaldi’s defection to “Coper-fucking-sucar”, and a sullen Hunt playing with a Scalextric while he waits for the phone to ring. The tone becomes more serious after Lauda’s crash and the scenes depicting his agonising convalescence are the film’s best moments.

As Rush draws its inspiration from real events the film makers faced the inevitable decisions over how far the facts should be stretched to make for a compelling story. I wasn’t alive during the season in question, but having read a lot about it including several books by and about both drivers, it seemed a fair and faithful depiction of events.

At first I balked at the omission of the 1976 Brands Hatch race. The start-line crash, the crowd clamouring for Hunt to be allowed to race, his win and eventual disqualification, all seemed to offer potent material. On reflection, given the difficulties of re-creating the crash and the complexities it would introduce into the plot of a film which is already two hours long, leaving it out was probably a sensible decision.

Of course some sequences are not totally accurate, and on some occasions events have been transposed or even invented. Still, I don’t think a person who was previously ignorant of the events in the film would come away from it with an unduly false impression of either driver.

I appreciate the scope of the technical challenge the film makers set themselves with Rush, how successfully they realise it, and the respect with which they treat the true story.

I suspect Rush will find more favour among mainstream fans than by dedicated F1 followers. But it is once again a treat to see a film about Formula One in cinemas and that wouldn’t be the case if it failed to pay proper respect to its subject matter. It does, yet never fails to deliver the exhilaration and entertainment you expect from a film called Rush.

F1 Fanatic rating

Rating four out of five


Director: Ron Howard
Distributor: Exclusive Media
Released: 13th September 2013 (UK and Ireland)
Running time: 122 minutes


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Image ?? Jaap Buitendijk

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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53 comments on “Rush – the F1 Fanatic review”

  1. I don’t get the idea of making a racing movie, period.

    The people who care about racing will never be pleased because of necessary short-cuts and omissions, unavoidable goofs, and plain old stupidity put in ‘to spice things up’, while people who don’t care for racing just wont go see it for that very reason.

    As such, you review makes me hopeful that this wont be another ‘Driven’, but I’d be surprised to see it be financially successful.

    1. It promotes our sport. The one we love and live. Rush will be a great asset for new /young F1 fans across the world. We need a larger community, lots of seats remain empty on lots of tracks. Cinema is the best way to give people emotions. Just look at IndyCar with Turbo or Nascar with Cars, it’s great and fun; Rush is a sporting-racing thriller, great.

      1. Best answer ever @jeff1s
        I recognize myself in this moment, exactly the way I feel as a fan! F1 isn’t enough close to supporters, some fans can’t even afford to buy a ticket and watch a race live; every little news, event or promotion is welcome… So we need this kind of attraction for all the new dudes/dudettes to the sport. Formula One is back this week-end! Bring on Monza! ;-)

      2. I agree too. I’m really excited by the idea of seeing a film with camera views we will never see on a Formula One race. The FOM way of watching is much too streamlined and predicatble …
        Also, I’m a 90’s kid so I’m very curious in what way Formula One was different back then. #excited :D

    2. It’s not really about racing though is it. It’s about the people who race.

      Racing should always be secondary in a movie and serve only as the platform that defines these individuals.

    3. Filmmakers set out to tell a story about characters in a visual way, sports – especially one as spectacular as F1 – can serve as a great vehicle if done properly.

      I don’t know anything about baseball and don’t care about the sport at all, yet ‘Moneyball’ released last year was a fantastic movie about that subject. While baseball might have been all they talked about, the characters and their reasons for being involved is what makes you care. If done properly, a movie transcends its subject and the themes pull you through whatever it’s about. If Rush turns out to be good, it’s not because it’s about F1.

      I still have my doubts, from what I’ve seen so far it looks too action driven, and otherwise overly sentimental. But he did do the rather successful character story ‘A Beautiful Mind’… I’ll give this one a shot.

      1. ‘A beautiful mind’ is a good case in point.

        Very tough subject, great film (even if it was let down by the comically embarrassing performance by Crowe.)

      2. Who doesn’t like American football movies?

    4. From the reviews from motorsport journalists I have seen so far, this movie does as best a job as possible while filming something that happened almost 40 years ago.

      I think its great to see some iconic moments of the sport relived this way. Who knows, we might even see a renewed interest in motor sport from it as well, and have a movie that is more than X-men 8, Batman Restart V, Superman Resurrected, Rambo meets Arnie to beat Sly, toystory 7, or IceAge-Back to the future.

    5. I do care about racing movies.

  2. just a question: why would you review a movie which is not released yet?

    1. Why wouldn’t you? Just about every movie review I’ve ever read was released before the movie itself anyway. So if you take issue with that approach then this seems like a bit of a random website to be first to bear your grievance.

      1. it’s just a question mate. I had to ask because I felt puzzled, not that I’m ****** off by it.

    2. So that you can get hooked and Rush to buy a ticket the first night it opens.

    3. As far as I know Keith has seen it during a screener a while ago – if that’s your point.

    4. @adityafakhri The purpose of a review is to help the reader make an informed decision about whether to buy the product – in this case, a ticket to a film.

      If the review went up after the film went on general release, that wouldn’t be very helpful. Some small cinemas might only show the film a few times shortly after it opens, so by the time this review appeared some people might have missed that chance to see it (not that I’m presuming people only go to the cinema on my humble recommendation!)

      1. Exactly. That’s why some opinio-makers watch it first. I rely heavily on reviews to decide whether or not to spend my money on a movie.

        After your review I cannot help but watch it.

        P.S.: I’d love to see a 1989 season movie and I guess 2007 would not be bad either.

      2. okay @keithcollantine, points taken. it’s not that I felt “spoiled” with the “spoiler” (pardon me, don’t know what’s the suitable words), but it’s just a bit unusual for me.

        1. @adityafakhri It is pretty normal – I saw the film a few weeks ago but reviews were embargoed until yesterday.

  3. I used to love Driven by Stallone!
    I still do, actually.. a bit trash but still very enjoyable to me!

    1. I liked it too, watched it twice; then people around me kept telling Driven was the ‘worst action’ movie ever and I should be ashamed to even mention it. I’m happy theres till someone who can say the same. I remembered this movie very well, it doesn’t matter at all if there were too many special effects or the story was lacking rhythm. Stallone did his best with waht was at disposal!
      I wish i was courageous enough to admit my love of this movie, plus it has featured some of my favs (Stallone, Alesi and crazy Montoya) back in the day… Well I think, I’ll go out there and shout it to the world!
      I love ‘Driven’ I don’t care, I love it…

      1. I do as well. I think whoever cut that film should be hanged (j/k), because most of the deleted scenes are great and add depth to the story – particularly to that of Stallone. They shouldn’t have sticked to the cheaply-devised CGI scenes as rigidly as they had done and the movie would have been rated higher by some notches, I think.

        I think it perfectly encapsulated the stress-related side of things – managers, media and PR, etc. expectations and its pressure – and then used Stallone as a mercurial man to teach how to focus as a driver on the right things, such as your own performance, shut the external expectations out and focus on improving your act – which is a life lesson in general.

        Rush, I expect it to shed light on the immense courage a driver needed – and in some categories still very much needs – to climb into a car in an environment full of life-threatening danger. I never had passions which I was highly attached to AND were highly dangerous as well, so I was never put to test how much danger I would take to follow my heart, but I guess it’s just as a big balancing act as big a challenge focusing on your own expectations from yourself is, as depicted in Driven. I eagerly await the former as well.

        1. Driven is watchable..but just turn your brain off. I’d much rather watch Talladega Nights!

          At the end of the day, the greatest film about racing will be Days of Thunder..COLE TRICKLE BABY! YEAH!….hahahaha

  4. I’m getting a bit pensive as I read this. I recall my comment from months ago saying “spoiler alert, James Hunt wins the world championship.” It’s also been over a year since you showed us pictures of them filming at the Nordschleife. I have got a lot to look forward to this month, and I certainly hope I could catch Rush in the cinema.

  5. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    2nd September 2013, 15:18

    Bruhl is one of the best actors in the world.

  6. I’ll watch the Rush movie also because I’d like to have a deeper experience of Niki Lauda’s crash… Books, articles and YouTube videos were never enough for me. I was really curious to look after actor D. Brühl. New sexy boy of Hollywood grabs too much attention, I mean Hemsworth, but it’s the dark ‘aura’ surrounding his colleague I am more interested in!

  7. Ron Howard’s “Beautiful Mind” was good but distorted the actual story and I was kind of afraid he’d do the same with Rush. But now I’m intrigued and will see for myself

  8. I’m in this somewhere, in the grandstand, along with some friends.

    The Fuji pits was actually Blackbushe Airport, Hampshire … :)

    1. I’m in this somewhere, in the grandstand, along with some friends.


  9. And, of course, copious amounts of shagging.

    That is what I fear.
    Nowadays every single western movie features sub-porn to sustain a typically poor scenario.

    1. I think that it’s pretty justified in a film about Hunt.

      1. @matt90 You’re right, it’s a must when it’s about Hunt not sure if @spoutnik is aware of that though.

    2. Considering James Hunt is the subject, I think we are lucky most of the movie doesn’t take place in a hotel room, bathroom stall, hot tub and so forth.

      I was a teen ager at the time and I vividly remember the news stories about lauda crash. The fact that I was born and raised in italy and Lauda was a ferrari driver made the crash front page news for weeks.

  10. I was hoping and waiting for a review from you, Keith before the movie came out. Well done, thanks for the insight.
    Ron Howard admitted he wasn’t even a motor racing fan, which I guess is why he looks at a lot of details differently than racing fans do. Like using stand-ins for tracks that don’t exist anymore.
    I was expecting Howard would also change a lot of things from a historical perspective, but the more I read, the better it sounds.
    I can’t wait to see the film!

    1. @dennis You’re welcome :-)

  11. I am really looking forward to the movie. The US release date has been bumped up from 20th to 27th. But definitely I will be watching the movie. It is fun to watch a racing movie. Hope it is not Rated R so that I can take my children to it.

  12. Instead we get a more balanced depiction of the pair and their rivalry which was professional and underpinned by mutual respect and an almost trench warfare mentality imposed on drivers by the dangers of the era.

    That’s the sentence that did it for me – thank goodness no Hollywoodized rivalry.

    I’m also looking forward to Alastair Caldwell: Peter Windsor interviewed him recently and he is the exact sort of person you want in your film to liven things up. “We only had three sets of tyres available, but well, we needed more, so we went out on a fourth set, but them Ferrari engineers had someone sitting at the pit exit who said ‘hey, they’re using a fourth set on James his car!’ so we quickly filed off the paint the FIA uses to mark the tyres, hid the tyres away and said ‘that Ferrari guy must be mistaken, cause we didn’t do anything wrong! Look, right here, we only have three sets of tyres.’ “

    1. As a sidenote, I hope this will stop the overflow of documentaries and especially books on the 1976 season :/

    2. @andae23 – That balance between characters is one of Peter Morgan’s favourite elements for his screenplays. It’s probably the only reason why this film could be made in the first place.

  13. So would you say its better than that god awful Senna fake-umentary? I mean, there was so much pro-senna sucking up it made me want to vomit. I was worried that this would be too glam and hollywood.

    1. Jody McLeod (@)
      2nd September 2013, 17:49

      The film was called “Senna”. It wasn’t “Prost is Awesome” or “Mansell”. Usually a documentary focuses on a subject and promotes that idea, so “Senna” being pro-Senna kinda makes sense, does it not?

      1. And now you know how most of world history was written! It has always been the sensational story that get’s told. In today’s world, it would be done in three minutes on YouTube. Ron has missed the boat again. I suspect Bernie, or someone else in F1, actually paid Howard to make the movie.

      2. I’d rather have seen a more nuanced view of Ayrton Senna and how he fit into the decade+ of Formula 1 he competed in.

        I can see how the realities of life lead to the product ‘Senna’ became instead, but it still left me wanting.

  14. Why has nobody here mentioned Steve McQueen’s “Le Mans” yet ?? Granted it was about sportscars and not F1, but as a race movie it’s still the best in my book.

    1. Ab

      It isn’t even close as to what the best racing movie ever is.

  15. If they tried to recreate the 2012 Brazilian GP, I’d probably get so fed up with the mistakes I’d walk out of the room. But being about a season which I know in general lines, and which I have seen little footage of, as well as drivers who were out of the sport decades before I was born (Hunt actually died before I was born), I don’t know their characters as well as I do about today’s drivers, so I should enjoy it and not worry about spotting the incongruences I wouldn’t notice. Look forward to watching it!

  16. David not Coulthard (@)
    3rd September 2013, 13:38

    @keithcollantine I know that this is somewhat off-topic, but does Rush have music from the band called Rush? I know the latter’s “breakthrough ” was also in 1976……

  17. How about the movie “One by One”, released in 1975 – a documentary about the deadliness of Grand Prix racing, including footage of fatal racing accidents. It is narrated by Stacy Keach.
    The film was reissued as “The Quick and the Dead” in 1978 released also as “Champions Forever: The Formula One Drivers”

  18. I’ve recently seen an advance screening here in the U.S. It’s an admirable filmed effort by all, but the racing scenes at times, are too obviously staged. It’s from a non-racers perspective, that only thinks racing occurs when the cars are side by side. It would have benefited from a scene of one of the drivers explaining briefly to their girlfriend, the subtleties of overtaking another car, for instance.

  19. The real stars of this movie are the real F1 used byRon Howard…thanks!!
    Here on my website you can see an original picture of this Lauda’s Ferrari and also James Hunt on Mc Laren..when I was on Castellet Circuit in1976

  20. I was eagerly waiting to watch this movie, and I finally did today. I went in with high expectations, since I’d watched Frost/Nixon for the first time only a couple of weeks back. Plus, with all the articles that have been written about the 1976 season, the movie had to be really good to match up.

    It didn’t disappoint at all. I was completely blown away by it. And I wasn’t the only one, there were lots of laughs and cheers in the movie theatre despite it only being about half full. First, when Regazzoni goes two seconds faster in the car Lauda prepared, and second when Lauda begins to gain ground in the Italian GP on his comeback.

    I’ve read other reviews that said Lauda and Hunt were quite friendly towards each other and not the hardened rivals the movie depicted, and that the real Hunt would’ve never beat up a journalist with premeditation. But I guess those are creative liberties which should be forgiven.

    All in all a far more satisfying watch than the Senna documentary, if not completely accurate. And I loved the final scene as well. Sets up Hunt’s waning interest and LaudaAir nicely!

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