A review of Ron Howard’s Rush

LaudaIt is 37 years since James Hunt and Niki Lauda battled for the Formula 1 World Championship. It was a storyline that one could never have invented. It is why there are so few successful motor racing novels; reality is so weird that there is little room left for fiction.

The Hunt/Lauda story was important because it played a crucial role in getting F1 on to worldwide television in the years that followed.

I was too young to have been there at the time, but I have seen them both race and I have known the pair. I worked with James for a couple of years, in a strange role as a “ghost commentator”. At the time, the BBC did not send a crew to the flyaway races and so I would call the races down a phone line and James and Murray Walker would commentate from London. You always knew that James hated the subterfuge. “I can’t quite see from where I am sitting,” he used to say. It was a message to the BBC to cough up and get him and Murray to all the races. Sadly, he died before that happened.

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 15.22.10James was not easy to like. He took a while to get to know but in the end we found a way. Niki, too, was a special character. He is 100 percent blunt and honest. If you want to hear it as it is, ask Niki. It is not always easy to like him, but – wow – how can one not respect a man who has lived his life?

So the characters and the story are there, and it was down to writer Peter Morgan and director Ron Howard to sell the movie. They were nothing if not ambitious. American interest in F1 is limited. They had to raise the cash to make the film but they made it happen and I have to say that I thought the movie was great.

I was shocked by Daniel Bruhl’s ability. He WAS Lauda. OK, he had the advantage of knowing the subject, while Chris Hemsworth had a more difficult task to recreate Hunt, without being able to meet him, but Bruhl’s performance was Oscar quality and I hope that this will be recognized accordingly. Hemsworth did a very decent job, with the right kind of earthy sex appeal that Hunt enjoyed, but he was not always helped by the script. One can understand a writer’s desire to create dramatic moments, but having Hunt coldly beating up a journalist – warranted though such a thing might have been in the circumstances portrayed – was simply not something that James would have done. It was not his style… Hunt was a glamorous babe-devouring party animal, but ruthless violence was not at all his thing…

That was the one thing that jarred for me. As a whole I though the movie was terrific, but much depends on whether you go into the cinema wearing an old racing anorak and looking for things to complain about, or whether you go in with an open mind with the view that the film is fundamentally good for F1 and the film-makers can be forgiven their little sins. My view was very much the latter, with the one proviso being that the integrity of the characters had to be left unchanged. With the exception of the violent scene with the journalist this was the case.

It has been a very long time since Hollywood did a proper racing movie and technology is such that one is amazed by what can be recreated. It is not all comfortable. Lauda’s accident and his recovery are painful to watch, as Howard has been brutal with his reality. But rightly so. F1 was painful in that era.

You end up feeling good about both characters – warts and all – and one must credit Morgan and Howard for achieving that. They have made a great – and believable – movie about Formula 1 and that has got to be a good thing for the sport. Did they tweak reality and play up the rivalry? Yes, but it did not matter. Apart from the scene with Hunt and the journalist – which they might be wise to replace – the film is terrific.

A good feature film about Grand Prix racing was long, long overdue. This is it. Don’t miss it…

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 15.09.15

68 thoughts on “A review of Ron Howard’s Rush

  1. I can’t wait to see it! Thanks for the review Joe – I will go with the open mind approach, definitely.

    I don’t watch many films, but my all time favourite is Apollo 13 – I understood totally the reason why they had to up the tension between characters in that one, but the best endorsement was from Jim Lovell and I watched it with that in mind. (My abiding memory was of all the adults of my age being very moved as it brought it all back, while the kids thought it was just another SF movie…)

  2. I am sooooooooooooooooo excited to see this movie. I was far more comfortable with Ron Howard making a movie about Formula One than I ever was when Sylvester Stallone was posturing it – then we ended up with Driven. Dodged a bullet on that one!!!
    CAN NOT WAIT. Thanks for the review Joe. I hope I enjoyed it as much as you did.

  3. Great to hear the views from someone who knew the protagonists Joe.

    I can understand your disappointment about the scene with the journalist being assaulted, but Peter Morgan does have a little bit of form when it comes to adding a little bit of extra “spice” into movies based on true events. In his script for Frost / Nixon he also added the late night phone call between David Frost and Richard Nixon, despite the fact that no such call ever took place. However Nixon was known to have undertaken late night calls, particularly in the months leading to his resignation, so Morgan added it in for dramatic effect.

    It sounds like the attack on the journalist is a similar piece of dramatic licence, and as you rightly say perhaps such a sin can be forgiven if it adds to make what sounds like a compelling movie.

    My Wife was a little sceptical prior to seeing Senna but really enjoyed it, as a result she is already looking forward to seeing this as she is a Ron Howard fan too, so hopefully it will attract many casual F1 fans and non – fans as well as the hard core supporters and justify Ron Howard taking a flyer and putting the movie together without studio backing.

  4. well you’ve just made me want to see it a whole lot more thanks…..have you had the chance to ask niki what he thinks of the film yet ?

  5. ‘I was shocked by Daniel Bruhl’s ability’……………….yes Joe, so was I in the very brief trailer that I watched the other day on you tube. I closed my eyes and Lauda was very much THERE. Fantastic portrayal by Bruhl which I hope gets recognition. Thanks for the review. I will definitely want to see it and, judging by your review, will probably want to see it again and again as I do with the film Senna.

  6. Thanks for that… your recommendation carries a lot of weight with me…

    ps. Apart from the violent scene (which isn’t the actor’s fault), can you give any flavor re: how the guy missed getting to know Hunt? (Not asking you to diss the guy, just wondering the ways you noticed that he paid a price for not having the chance to know the man. (Mannerisms? Inflections? Facial expressions?)

  7. Echo Matt Popes comments…CAN NOT WAIT!… and I’m sure I’ll be buying the DVD too. But a bit disappointed to hear that JH and Murray weren’t actually at the races and were, shall we say, extemporising all that local chatter.
    I was just starting to zone in on F1 in those times and well remember James laconic banter contrasted with Murray’s excited oh-so-precise word pictures. (Until he had to correct himself of course, dear old Muzz).
    The film sounds like a gas and actually like a whole lot more fun that today’s sanitised, risk averse racing…and a whole lot more lethal……*coughs*…

    1. They were at all the European races. They only missed out in places like Canada, Japan and Brazil. I honestly cannot remember beyond that but we had a lot fewer flyways in that era.

      1. I think they missed South Africa as well, with Hunt going into a long discussion about how terrible apartheid was, concluding it with “Anyway, thank god we’re not there is all I can say”. Murray and Mark Wilkin (producer) were left just sat there with their head in their hands as James looked confused not understanding why they were all upset with him.

  8. Mmmmm… beating up a journalist? Although James had a little “form” for this it was from adrenaline in the “heat of battle”, and I remember when he punched the marshal at Mosport after shunting with teammate Mass, he was apopletically apologetic to the guy just 2 or 3 seconds after the incident. (see here…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpZnE7gj0gY ).
    The other one with Dave Morgan in F3 at Crystal Palace was more fun…. James ran away and did not “stand and fight” as incorrectly reported by Tom Rubython in his book after punching Dave Morgan from behind…. (here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSCDucychzA ).
    I guess the journalist punch is well out of context from the “competitive adrenaline” juices which seemed to be the only time James got agitated.

  9. What an endorsement!’
    It is on my list to go. This will
    Be my exception this year, i dislike going to the cinema and rather watch it in the comfort of my home. I loved that era of racing makes me feel old 🙂 I remember it.

    I hope it does well. F1 in the US is simply not big. I am not sure how you can measure the success the movie will have on the sport. Like Turbo has on Indy.

    The movie did not receive F1 money. I also think people watching the Movie then watching the next GP will be in for a shock as it is a different era, where driver like Sr Jackie Stewart simply shook hands with Tyrrell and agree to drive for him without a contract… True gentleman…

  10. I’d have to agree 100% with your review . For me the special effects and the volume are a bit overwhelming [ but I’m not your typical movie goer so… ] and of course the ‘ history ‘ is not completely accurate ( I was around and up to my neck in F1 as a fan etc when all this was news .. not to mention having read every Lauda autobiography etc ) .. but for a Hollywood attempt at a 21st century ” Grand Prix ” overall I’d have to give it high marks .. and recommend it . As to what effect it’ll have on US interest in F1 … I’m hoping … but skeptical … so that’ll remain to be seen ( I’ll be interested to see what the US reviewers say about the film )

    Side note ; Looks like Alonso’s spreading his wings and taking over a Pro Tour Bicycle racing Team [ Eusketel ] ( cyclingnews.com ) Laying down some plans for when retirement comes along …. or simply investing in his country thru sport … either way … Two Thumbs Up !

  11. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this movie. I was a young fan when it all went down, so I have my perseption of it, which was that although Hunt and Lauda were both going for the title, there was always a lot of mutual respect shared between them. My recollection was that there couldn’t have been two more diverse characters. Lauda, as you say, was so blunt and two the point that had he been a diplomat for a superpower nation, we all wouldn’t be here today,,as he would have caused WW III. He was cold and to the point, an almost stereotypical Teuton. Hunt on the other hand, was foot loose to the degree that he used to cut the ends of his racing boots off, exposing his sox. He had better feel, he claimed. Lauda never laughed, while Hunt found it easier to laugh than not, perhaps an attribute refined from his Heskith days, which he was a great fit with, as Heskith was doing F1 almost as a lark, with no doubt ever in mind that they were the party team. I’m looking forward to the movie, needless to say. Thanks for the review Joe!

  12. James Hunt did belt a Marshall after an accident in the 1977 Canadian GP at Mosport. Maybe that’s the background source to the journalist scene?

    1. I was there, but didn’t see it happen. Poor marshall was just trying to do his job. And yes, Hunt was or acted sorry, and was lucky not to wind up in jail, something very possible. I vaguely remember something about money changing hands afterwards. Drivers’ slugging marshalls and others happened occasionally in those days. Emmo did, and I think Regga floored a soldier once and on another occasion swung his helmet at someone. I hated it back then, and hated seeing Kimi come close to reviving the practice more recently.

    2. He punched him once, and instantly realised his mistake and then acted with concern. The contrast so quickly is quite apparent.

      4:20 seconds in. Great program…

  13. Thanks for the review Joe, I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. One thing that’s really frustrating me though is the use of tobacco advertising throughout all the trailers I’ve seen.

    Does the narrative of the film benefit from seeing Marlboro all over the place? Yes, tobacco advertising on F1 cars may be historically accurate to the period during which the film is set, but was it really needed? As you have already mentioned there are other elements of the film that are not historically accurate and Ron Howard has been allowed a little artistic licence, so why not remove the tobacco advertising?

    I am not against overt tobacco advertising, but I do find the subversive advertising such as branded product placement in movies or the current Ferrari F1 team logo frustrating. There is a law in place to limit the advertising of cigarettes, it feels as though Rush is another way in which Phillip Morris have sought to work around this law. If tobacco companies are to continue to advertise I wish they would do it through spending money on F1 teams that would benefit from it!

    1. It is not subversive advertising. I checked and there was no deal between Marlboro and the film makers. It would have been too controversial a thing to have done. I am afraid that you will just have to live with this thing called reality. That is how it was and that is how it should be in the film. Getting rid of something because it is no longer acceptable is like making war films and not allowing scene with people being killed. Ridiculous.

      1. They did alter James helmet design, i have checked back through my old photos of the time and he never had “James Hunt” on the front above the visor, it was “Marlboro”

        The same with Niki, he never had a visor strip with his name on it, plus they got his helmet type wrong, both before and after the accident, where he wore a very distinctive AGV helmet not a Bell Star.

    2. They debated it, and decided to remove some of the logos from the crash helmets for close up shots.

      Entirely with Joe on this one. Seeing the ’91-’93 Williams with the Camel logo’s removed and Williams instead just look wrong and if anything subconsciously remind you of the brand rather than Canon/Labatts etc.

  14. It is times like this i am thankful that my girlfriend fancies Chris Hemsworth, or Thor as she calls him. Definitely on it. And seriously can people just get over the smoking advertising thing. If you choose to smoke (and I did for a long time before quitting) and you are under the age of 75 you have lived your entire adult life knowing that smoking kills. Live with it

  15. I was lucky enough to be a F1 photographer in the 1970s. I spent some time with James Hunt before the 1976 Long Beach Grand Prix. We were both flirting with the race queen. I photographed her a couple of times. At a Grand Prix later that year James came up to me in the pits and asked me if I had “got in her pants.” I said no and asked him if he had. He said no and we both said “good to know.” That’s the James Hunt I knew as a F1 photojournalist!

  16. I’m looking forward to seeing it Joe because I was there at Brands, the Ring and the Austrian GP that Enzo tried to get cancelled. Was my frist time in Europe as a callow 20 year old from Australia. Was the first time I saw real F1 action even though was lucky enough to see the many aces in the Tasman races in the ’60’s. It was the time when motor racing was dangerous and sex was safe! (and plentiful)

  17. Hi Joe, great review, whets my appetite even more to see it.

    Question: Did the makers solicit the opinions of the viewers after the previews? Did you and/or others have the chance to offer your opinions regarding the non authenticity of the Hunt on screen fist fight?



      1. Scientific way? If you saw the movie and they asked your thoughts, did you voice your opinion on the journalist fight scene?

        Just wondering if they heard enough of that from the F1 cognoscenti, if they would have been moved to edit the final cut differently?

        1. As I said I was asked what I thought but it was not like market research. It was “What did you think?” That was it. I did not voice any reservations because on the whole I thought it was good. End of story.

  18. Totally agree with the journalist scene. Other than that, everything else is perfectly acceptable. Don’t miss the film!

  19. Having been the instigator of the riot at Brands in ’76 I am sad that it does not feature in the film. I will always be proud of the fact that the chants “we want James” got him back on the grid for the restart and even happier that he went on to win the race. The fact that he got disqualified months later was of minimal interest to the paying public who went home happy on the day.

  20. Thanks for sharing your views Joe. I’ve been looking forward to this film for ages but was afraid it might have been a bit too “Hollywood”, now I know I don’t need to worry and can just sit back and enjoy it.

  21. I was a paper boy in 1976 and into everything that was sport. Every early morning I would read the sports pages as I completed my round.
    But it was the news of the unfolding season that grabbed my attention of the F1 reports. Midway through that season I got the bug. I have been following F1 every season, every race, every year, ever since.
    Over time, motor sport generally took over any other interest in other sports.
    And I can’t wait for this film. Thanks Joe for all the information you have given us on Ron Howard’s film ‘Rush’

  22. Sorry, but I having seen the real thing (I knew James and I know Niki), I count myself as very lucky to have been in close quarters with both of these guys. I followed their great races with a passion and I’m happy to stick with that memory. I’ve made my mind up to avoid this, maybe catch it in a few years time, when I’m stuck on a plane with nothing else to do… You may call me a spoilsport, but I think real heroes don’t need actors and clever scripting to mimic them, and real drama doesn’t need more (questionable) dramatising… R.I.P. my old friend James.

    1. Perhaps its just a good interesting story that can be dramatized and shared with generations that were either not alive yet or just unaware of F1 previously. Why be against a little F1 truth being stranger than fiction?

    2. It would be tough to watch what you know is inaccurate. You have a better movie in your head – memories.
      I’ll enjoy the movie eventually (I live in Korea) and hopefully learn a little about “the good ol’ days.”

  23. “Niki, too, was a special character. He is 100 percent blunt”
    – too true! I was lucky enough to meet Niki in Hungary this year where I asked him for a picture, using my best German. ‘Ganz Schnell!’ was his answer, without a hint of a smile! I can’t believe I got a photo with the legend though and even got him to autograph my Mclaren T-shirt! Couldn’t get him to smile however 😉

  24. The 1976 year was the 1st year I watched F1 so I am looking foward to this fiim with great anticipation. I am going to take my 17 year old son to expose him to the F1 I was introduced to. Which is the drama and competition between McLaren and Ferrari. (The Hunt antic(s) was just a “byproduct”).

  25. I don’t know Phil R but I am very grateful to him for drawing my attention to the documentary about James and Barry. Brilliant. Stephanie was once the centre spread in TRUCK, Sheene raced in the first ever truck race at Donington against Steve Parrish and Martin Brundle while James very nearly killed me in a charity demolition derby when he hit me from behind. Apologized immediately afterwards.Son Nicholas continued and won the race. This is the beauty of this blog Joe. Thank you.

  26. I watched this film last night. I went into it with no knowledge of the 1976 season, not even knowing who would end up as world champion, and I thought it was a great film.

  27. Great Review Joe i have been looking forward to seeing this film for some time and 1976 was the year that Barry Sheene also won the world championship Two great UK champions sadly lost

  28. Great review Joe, and having seen the film last night I totally agree with both the anorak remark (sadly, mine wasn’t at home and I say there bemoaning inaccuracies in my head!) and that of the journalist scene – it was the latter by which I found this blog, searching to see if a scene that irked me so much and felt so out of place with the character actually had any basis in reality. I’m not surprised it didn’t, and it shouldn’t have been in there.

  29. Very good stuff indeed. A group of us have taken to watching B movies on a Sunday night. I looked on line the other day to try and find some more. Was shocked to find 5 of the top ten B movies were films I genuinely love. How are Escape from New York and Warriors B Movies?
    All the best

  30. I take exception with your statement that “American interest in F1 is limited.” and ask you to elaborate on that viewpoint. This typical comment implies that Americans are ignorant hicks that owe F1 allegiance because their European counterparts know better. Hogwash!

    I’ve followed F1 since 1965 and have several friends in the same boat, but will admit that a lot of Americans are “turned off” by F1, and for valid reasons that our European counterparts seem afraid to admit.

    If you want my honest opinion as to “why” American interest in F1 might be considered limited, I think one only has to look as far as the contrived technology such as KERS and DRS for the first item.

    The concept of KERS has been used on street cars long before F1 ever considered it so it isn’t leading technology from racing to the street in any way shape or form. DRS just doesn’t apply to the average car and it is meaningless to cripple one car to give another an advantage. Someone doesn’t understand the term “racing” if you don’t agree.

    If racers can’t pass other racers then the construction rules of the cars should be changed to allow that, not come up with something that is no more than a cover-up for poor rules that existed in the first place.

    Then there are the totally arbitrary and mindless decisions made by the race stewards that turn race results into a bad, sad joke. I defy anyone to call BS on that.

    Then there is F1’s dedication to the destruction of the innovation and creativity that used to be the Raison d’être of the series. This is the most egregious and obscene offense of all.

    Remember the Can-Am racing series sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America? The series had, virtually, no rules and resulted in some of the most awesome race cars and racing in history.

    My opinion is that F1 should return to emulating that philosophy.

    (As far as DRS goes, I believe Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2C was the first racing car with a rear wing adjustable from the cockpit. And anywhere on the track, not just in fabricated zones or a silly one second interval.)

    F1 is degenerating rapidly into a meaningless series with no soul beyond the soulless bureaucrats that control it.

    If you think Americans can’t recognize the premier series in auto racing (actually, I think the WRC is premier), perhaps you just can’t see what is wrong with it and how pathetic it is becoming.

    Why not just define a box of dimensions A x B x C and let each team build whatever they want within those confines? O.K., gotta have a budget, so how about we take the average of the current budgets of all the current teams?

    I don’t see anyone not getting excited about what next year’s cars would look like under those rules, do you?

  31. Hi Joe, I saw the film at a special preview last night and I can’t agree more, it’s a brilliant film, for F1 fans and those that aren’t too – my wife loved it!

    You’re right about the Hunt/Journo scene though, it’s out of character from what I understand about James. That said I’m glad he approached him – a simply punch in the face would have done rather than taking him down in such a violent way. The journo deserved something, maybe a bit too far.

    Overall, I’m really pleased that the film more than lived up to the hype, it’s fantastic. Kudos to Pottsy for directing a frankly awesome film. It’s good for F1 too.

  32. Spot on about the journalist incldent. I was also disappointed they didn’t include the “riot” scene of the first lap of he British GP. Good movie

  33. Just watched Rush, and what a great great movie. Captured the 76 season, and that F1 era perfectly. I also thought the two actors did a remarkable job, particularly the guy playing James.It was right up there with the movie Grand Prix,

  34. Finally saw it – treated by my daughter yesterday. Afterwards we watched the BBC2 documentary and she realised what she had seen at the cinema was much more realistic than she’d thought (after all, you really couldn’t make half of it up!)

    I was impressed by almost all the characters, perhaps apart from the Louis Stanley figure, and forgave the rewriting of some aspects of F1 history to make the story more compelling to non-fans (i.e. the scene where Lauda redesigns the BRM). The James Hunt portrayal was good enough for me, seeing as I didn’t ever know him! The Lauda figure was uncanny.

    The main thing was – it was entertaining and moving and thought provoking, and I would recommend it to any motor racing fan.

    On the other hand, if anyone wants to see a 100% accurate portrayal of that era, there are plenty of documentaries and YouTube clips out there…

  35. Saw Rush at the weekend. Mixed feelings. A working title film but not, in my view, in the same league as ‘Senna’. I found that hugely emotional and still do each time I watch it again and again. Perhaps my comparison is unfair as Senna was a documentary and Rush was more of a ‘Hollywood’ portrayal. The best memory for me though, and the reason I’m glad I saw the film, was Bruhl’s portrayal of Lauda which I found unbelievably good. If anything, it confused me somewhat as, during the scenes about Lauda, I forgot he was acting; it tricked me into thinking I was watching a documentary about the Austrian, with Lauda himself taking part; Bruhl is THAT good. It served as a reminder also of the reason why I, and I’m sure many other people who were brought up on F1 70’s style consider Lauda to be a true great. He might not have won 7 WDC’s or been the youngest to win 3 WDCs however, the comeback from the brink of death to race again at Monza a few weeks later AND finish 4th is as good an F1 story as you’re likely to get. He wasn’t just brave, he defined brave. The hospital scenes in the film are certainly memorable. Yes, go and see the film, not necessarily as a tribute to Hunt (which I’m not sure it is – or was ever intended to be?) but as a testament to the legend this is Lauda.

  36. Saw Rush at the weekend, and really enjoyed it. Yes, I’m a little too young to remember James as a racer, but I adored his commentary with Murray on the BBC F1 coverage.

    Bruhl’s portrayal of Lauder (an incredibly brave man) was bang on the money, as was Hemsworth’s portrayal of Hunt. Ok – I flinched at the Journo scene, but you could imagine Hunt’s outrage at such a comment being made – even if I think it was a bit OTT.

    Think they missed a trick with Hunt’s reaction at the Japanese GP when Hunt tried to punch Meyer’s lights out, ashe tought he’d been denied the win by the pit stop, but aside from this, it was a really good film, and not too “santitised” by Hollywood.

  37. great movie, if you want to
    see how a movie should be
    filmed AND edited let this be the new textbook for cinematographers and editors.
    Lauda, a real life champion

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