Film review: Rush (15)
IN A NUTSHELL
The combination of palm-sweating race sequences and moving human drama ensures this story of the 1976 F1 Championship takes the chequered flag.
The last time director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan came together, the resulting film saw a couple of 70s icons go head to head. One was a jetsetting playboy Brit with a penchant for air hostesses, the other a win-at-all-costs sourpuss.
That was Frost and Nixon. This time it's James Hunt and Niki Lauda and instead of a studio and a clipboard, the figures do battle in the death-or-glory world of Formula One.
The result - of Morgan's characters and Howard's vision - is a stunning and absorbing film that works as both a spectacle and human drama. Surely, one of the most accomplished and satisfying sporting movies ever made.
Howard is used to capturing men at the edge (Apollo 13, Backdraft) and there is a distinctly Hollywood feel to the rivalry between the seat-of-his-pants Hunt and the snippily clinical Austrian as they renew their rivalry in the 1976 World Championship.
But with crashes, disfigurements, sex, drugs, death and a cliffhanger finish built into the truth, Howard does not feel the need to lay on the Hollywood syrup.
Indeed, Rush - with independent funding, authentic settings, low down and dirty camera work during exhilarating race sequences and an emphasis on the faces behind the visors - the film has an European aesthetic.
Two powerful performances aid the cause. Chris Hemsworth chucks away Thor's hammer and grabs a glass and a gal to construct the cheeky charmer.
"Hunt, James Hunt," he says by way of introduction and we're immediately reminded of that other roguish James.
Daniel Bruhl has the harder challenge. Niki Lauda was never liked and often coldly cutting but his steely recuperation to return to the track just weeks after a near-fatal injury is nothing short of miraculous.
We always like James Hunt - what's not to like? - but we come to respect and admire Lauda, thanks to Bruhl's low-key conviction.
In the end, the finishing lines of Morgan's script are unadventurous - our rivals drive us more than our friends - but the journey to that chequered flag is one hell of a race.