Movie review: Racing drama “Rush” nearly too good to be true

From the September 26, 2013 edition

In sports, the fiction is often stranger than the truth, as sportswriters collectively strive to create intriguing storylines to further sell the sports they cover. Still, the story told in “Rush” makes for an amazing movie, as it’s at least based on the story of a true story.

Based on the epic 1976 Formula One racing season, director Ron Howard dives deep into the rivalry between brash British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and methodical Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).

The hotshot-vs.-traditionalist is a long-standing cliché of sports movies, and it’s played up here as it was in the press at the time. The reality that the two were off-track friends doesn’t have a place in this telling, but the drama is all the better for it.

Howard crafts both an excellent film and a rousing crowd-pleaser here. The racing footage is pulse-pounding, the recreations of historic F1 races impressive, but there’s also great drama at play here.

His Hollywood hunk status has Hemsworth with top billing — he’s the lone face on the poster, in fact — but it’s Bruhl who steals the film. The “Inglorious Basterds” actor works a range of emotion beneath Lauda’s stoic exterior.

There are always flaws in this sort of biopic, and “Rush” isn’t immune. Hunt’s whirlwind marriage to a model (played by Olivia Wilde) feels underdeveloped to the point that its inclusion seems simply a means to pair it against Lauda’s romance.

But overall, “Rush” stands among the best of Howard’s directorial work. Granted, he’s been a wildly inconsistent director in terms of quality, but the man does have a couple of Oscars.