Hollywood has seen more than its fair share of sports movies. From Rocky, Remember the Titans, and Blades of Glory, most audience members know what to expect when they plunk themselves down in a chair to watch the latest tale of athletic turmoil and triumph. Now, with the film Rush, director Ron Howard is delving into the real-life rivalry between Formula One racecar drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s. And while his movie may not be a reinvention of the sports movie genre, Howard (who has given us terse character-driven dramas like A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon) proves once again that he knows how to tell a wholly satisfying Hollywood tale with depth.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with Hunt and Lauda’s story and don’t know what the outcome of their showdown was, you can probably see a number of the plot turns in Rush coming from a mile away. Chris Hemsworth plays Hunt, a cocky and charismatic Brit who becomes the golden boy of the Formula One world. However, he soon meets his match in the form of Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), a stern and determined German driver who will stop at nothing to beat his new rival. The two men trade off victories and defeats and they both begin to take bigger risks in hopes of defeating the other.

The film also offers subplots involving the women in Hunt and Lauda’s lives, and while the characters of their love interests may not be terribly well-developed, they do help give us revealing looks into the lives of the two drivers. Both men push away the women who care about them, and their single-mindedness about racing threatens to derail their personal relationships altogether. This is just one of the ways that Hunt and Lauda are more similar than the viewer might initially expect.

Howard offers many parallels and subtle insights into the two men’s psyches throughout Rush, making Hunt and Lauda’s characters all the more compelling. Hemsworth and Bruhl also deliver nuanced performances that allow us to become emotionally invested in their characters’ personal and professional lives. Hemsworth offers plenty of bluster and bravado, but vulnerability bubbles right below the surface. And while Bruhl initially seems stilted, it soon becomes clear that it’s all a part of Lauda’s calculated exterior.

But as much as Rush is a character study, it’s also a movie about racing, so you’d expect to see some pretty visually impressive scenes on the racetrack. Howard succeeds in this regard as well. The film’s racing sequences are all exhilarating and full of energy. Thanks to the tight editing and perfect pacing, you can feel the danger in every acceleration and hairpin curve the drivers navigate. Howard is sometimes accused of being bland in his directing style, but the racing sequences here are anything but boring.

At two hours long, Rush takes the time to build its characters; without compelling and believable personalities, the film would have had little to offer. It’s certainly not a groundbreaking entry into the sports movie genre, and at times its clichés are a bit too prominent to take seriously. But thanks in large part to its capable direction, Rush ends up being a dynamic and engrossing look at rivalry and obsession nonetheless. MMMM

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