Thankfully Rush is not just about James Hunt. The film is about Hunt's 1976 rivalry with Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), who is refreshingly opposite of Hunt in nearly every respect other than driving really fast. Lauda, unlike Hunt, is disciplined and focused on the mechanics, probabilities, and percentages of racing, more than the rush of its recklessness and danger. Indeed, Lauda's ultimate willingness to assess personal risk makes it harder for him to compete with the fearless Hunt. Morally and professionally, Lauda is the more admirable of the duo, but not necessarily the one you root for. Hemsworth's Hunt is more charismatic and likable, even if you aren't surprised or too sad to find out that he died from a heart attack at age 45.
Rush has a few things going for it. It's a sports movie about a relatively niche sport, featuring a compelling episode involving two of its noteworthy icons duking it out on the Grand Prix circuit. It's an amusingly rendered period piece. It has high octane racing scenes and very loud, fast Ferraris—if you're into that sort of thing. It's imbued with Ron Howard warm fuzzies, but not too much (somewhere in the register of Cinderella Man). It has some cool slow-mo shots of rain.
But as enjoyable as Rush sometimes is, the film never packs a punch or provokes a thought that lingers longer than one of Hunt's pre-game conquests. In the end it's a fairly standard, mildly entertaining sports movie that led me to spend a few minutes on Wikipedia reading about Hunt, Lauda, and Formula One.
It's a bit of a missed opportunity. For while the Lauda-Hunt dynamic has its moments of Hegelian insight and frenemy fun, the film only vaguely explores the implications of their divergent approaches to life (though you might wonder if they are really as divergent as the film depicts). Hunt's character in particular feels more complex than he's portrayed. What fuels the recklessness and addition to risk in a person like that? What in his past led him to treat himself (and others, particularly women) as something more akin to a car part than a human being?
Rush doesn't seem as interested in these deeper character questions as it does with the revving of engines and the choreography of race scenes. Still, it's a smarter-than-average sports movie and one that offers the viewer (particularly car lovers) the sort of wheel-screeching cinematic blast its title promises. Just don't expect to get too much long-term mileage out of it.
Both Prisoners and Rush are rated R. Prisoners receives its rating because of strong language and intense violence. Though the violence is not ubiquitous and isn't gratuitously graphic, there are a few sequences of torture that are hard to watch. The film's general ambience of dread and darkness, and subject matter of child kidnapping, make it a highly questionable film to show to children.
Rush has a more lighthearted tone but also has a few scenes of disturbing violence (a few fiery crash scenes resulting in mangled limbs, facial burn scarring and other injuries). Rush also has a few scenes of sex and nudity (both female and male) as well as lots of depictions of drug and alcohol use. Neither of these films is appropriate for children and should be approached with caution by all.
Brett McCracken is a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist, and author of the books Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker, 2010) and Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty(Baker, 2013). You can follow him @brettmccracken.