Watching F1 in reality is like being a spectator for hours of someone else playing scalextric. By contrast, watching F1 in Rush is such a visceral experience that in the cinema I was in virtually the whole audience was flinching and gasping at every bend on the track.
Director Ron Howard has managed to break what is close to an iron rule of cinema: sports films can never really be about the sport. It’s always been a problem for anyone making such a film that watching actors play a sport will almost invariably be less impressive than when professional athletes do it. So films have to minimise the amount of time they show the sport in question actually being played. My favourite sport’s film the Damned United is notable for the fact that throughout it’s running time a ball is barely ever kicked in anger. And generally this is all to the good. Had the Damned United been about football it would have bored me but it’s about characters and their struggles.
Rush sticks with the character element. It is first and foremost about the personal and professional clash between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. But rather than having to work around the race scenes, these are integral to Rush. In fact, the extended reconstructions of the disastrous race at the Nurburgring and the finale at the Tokyo Grand Prix are probably the best scenes. They are certainly the most exciting.
Howard turns the rule on its head: making film sport better than the real, and turning what is in most hands a weakness into the great strength of his film.