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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

SUC­CESS­FUL Hol­ly­wood films — not nec­es­sar­ily the best films — tend to stick to a for­mula. And one for­mula goes some­thing like this. Take plenty of ac­tion (prefer­ably with car chases), add some spec­tac­u­lar crashes and neardeath ex­pe­ri­ences, gar­nish with ro­man­tic sub­plots, and if pos­si­ble in­clude a sex scene in the first five min­utes. I call this Hol­ly­wood’s For­mula One. (For­mula Two — young cou­ple moves into an empty house and hears strange noises in the ceil­ing — has in­spired quite a few good films of late, but that’s another for­mula.)

The good news is that Rush, Ron Howard’s ex­cel­lent new ac­tion block­buster, sticks closely to For­mula One, and the re­sult is some­thing of a tri­umph. Quite by co­in­ci­dence, Rush is a film about For­mula One mo­tor rac­ing, a sport of which I know next to noth­ing. When­ever I see bits of it on TV I am con­firmed in my view that no more stupid, dan­ger­ous, bor­ing, anti-so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tally pol­lut­ing sport has been de­vised by man, and my sym­pa­thy goes out to all res­i­dents of peace­ful sub­ur­ban neigh­bour­hoods, in­clud­ing the good cit­i­zens of Al­bert Park in Mel­bourne, who find them­selves liv­ing next to mo­tor-rac­ing cir­cuits.

But putting aside all prej­u­dice, I con­fess I was hap­pily taken in by Rush — the lat­est en­trant in a sur­pris­ingly crowded genre and, in the opin­ion of more knowl­edge­able crit­ics than I, per­haps the best mo­tor-rac­ing film yet made.

Like many a quasi-fic­tional en­ter­tain­ment, it is ‘‘ based on a true story’’, and its strength lies in its su­perb evo­ca­tion of char­ac­ter. At the cen­tre of things are ri­val driv­ers from the so-called golden age of F1 in the 1970s, when, ac­cord­ing to the best sta­tis­tics, one or more driv­ers could be re­lied on to kill them­selves on the race­track ev­ery year. Be­tween 1967 and 1975 — the pro­duc­tion notes for Rush seem rather proud of the fact — 13 F1 driv­ers lost their lives. There was no more per­ilous track than the Nord­schliefe (north­ern loop) at Nur­bur­gring in Ger­many, a stretch with 177 turns nick­named the ‘‘ Green Hell’’ by F1 rac­ing leg­end Jackie Stewart (another fact I gleaned from the pro­duc­tion notes). Lin­ing up in pour­ing rain for the 1976 Ger­man Grand Prix were Aus­trian driver Niki Lauda, the reign­ing world cham­pion, and his Bri­tish chal­lenger James Hunt, a charis­matic fig­ure on and off the track, renowned as a wit, wom­an­iser and heavy boozer.

Both are flawed char­ac­ters: Hunt the flam­boy­ant play­boy, reck­less and crazy-brave; Lauda the strait­laced ob­ses­sive, de­voted to a healthy life­style (‘‘I go to bed early’’), cal­cu­lat­ing in all things and a metic­u­lous tech­ni­cian be­hind the wheel. I was never sure which of them I wanted to win. Lauda is played in sub­dued and cagy style by Daniel Bruhl ( In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds, The Bourne Ul­ti­ma­tum), and I’m ready to be­lieve that he spoke English as flaw­lessly in real life as Bruhl does in the film (sav­ing a lot of te­dious sub­ti­tling). At one point Lauda likens his ap­pear­ance to that of a rat, and some­how the de­scrip­tion fits. It may even be mildly com­pli­men­tary (rats, as we know, be­ing in­tel­li­gent and so­cia­ble crea­tures de­spite their prom­i­nent teeth and rep­u­ta­tion for cow­ardice and treach­ery).

But the truly as­ton­ish­ing per­for­mance is that of Aus­tralian ac­tor Chris Hemsworth as Hunt. I first saw him as the ham­mer-wield­ing hero of Ken­neth Branagh’s Thor, step­ping from the rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity of Home and Away to emerge as the em­bod­i­ment of the old-style Hol­ly­wood lead­ing man. With his mag­nif­i­cent torso, flow­ing blond hair and air of easy grace he looks not only like some Nordic god but re­mark­ably like the pho­tos I have seen of Hunt. Can this be another Aussie su­per­star in the mak­ing, ri­valling Sam Wor­thing­ton, the hero of James Cameron’s

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