here have been all kinds of sports movies: ones that focus on teams coming together, teams facing mighty odds as underdogs, or a lone athlete and the story that built his/her legendary status. Recently, there has even been a film, Warrior, focused on two opponents but neither was a villain, putting the viewer at odds as to who to root for.
Rush focuses on two opponents as well, but it does something Warrior didn't, bringing a fresh spin on the sports movie genre. While focusing on the story of the opponents, Rush also manages to focus on the psyche of each individual and what really drives them as competitors. You understand so much about each of these two men, especially Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), who can't be seen as a simple "villain" to James Hunt's (Chris Hemsworth) "hero" because neither fits the role.
In the 1970s, Formula One Racing had just ascended to the ranks of the more popular sports in the world at the time, and at the height of that popularity, one man became the face of it. James Hunt was charismatic, handsome, carefree and in general the type of man that all men wanted to be. Bursting onto the scene was a hypercompetitive individual that couldn't have been more of a polar opposite of Hunt. Niki Lauda wasn't conventionally handsome, was curt with other drivers and not well liked. The feeling was often mutual. While there was a lengthy roster of drivers, every race seemed to boil down to these two men who captivated the world with their competitiveness, but few ever understood the respect these two men had for each other.
While the driving sequences are spectacular, they are secondary to the performances that the two leads accomplish in Rush. Brühl, at Ron Howard's direction, takes you into the mind of a competitor like no other sports movie ever has. You understand that he will let nothing stop him from achieving what he has worked so hard for, not even spending close to a minute in an 800-degree inferno of a car crash. He's not great at emotions, as his proposal to his future wife illustrates hilariously in a sad sort of way. No matter what you end up feeling about Niki Lauda, you can't ever think of his as a villain, because James Hunt never did.
At the same time, Hemsworth's turn as James Hunt is that of what you might think of any professional athlete. He chases women, drives away the ones closest to him, and competes for a championship not because he's worked for it, but because he feels like his presence alone is worthy of being named champion. Most of the movie is spent conveying the fact that Hunt hates that Lauda is constantly there, but the moments where his respect for Lauda comes through make this a remarkable sports movie about two competitors.
Rush might not have all the flash or contemporary appeal of a football or baseball movie, but the quality is there. You'll never understand the drive of competitive athletes more than you'll understand the drive for Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Sports movie fans who want a different type of story should do themselves and favor and check this out. For an even more in-depth look at Formula One Racing, you can also check out the documentary Senna, which I've reviewed on this site before.