Although neither lead performance requires deep complexity, Bruhl and Hemsworth are convincing as Lauda and Hunt, never more so than when one of them faces a dire setback. Howard carries his audience through agonizing scenes that show one character walking the edge between life and death, yet the film allows audiences to come out of the theater more exhilarated than exhausted.

Morgan's script pits Lauda's lifestyle choices against Hunt's, but it refuses to make a judgment about either man's pursuit of the pinnacle of their profession. It's up to viewers to decide which man, if either, is to be admired. That may trouble audiences looking for a clear moral to this story, as may the portrayal of Lauda's and Hunt's wives, who have little to do but watch helplessly as their husbands risk death and danger.

In Morgan's telling of the two racers' stories, envy touches their rivalry, and moments of humility are few and far between. Neither driver lives a pristine life off the track, but their pursuit of excellence makes for a thrilling ride.

Excellence is in itself admirable. However, the racers don’t acknowledge any divine source for their talents, even when discussing their own mortality. The closest the film comes is when one character remembers telling a priest to get lost (but he uses much more colorful language). That makes Rush, as good as it is, inferior to the recent documentary Senna, a God-infused story of a driver with an intense faith in God that informed his approach to racing.

Competitiveness can be positive if it helps us achieve good things with the right motives, but the drive to be the best can easily tip into sin. Titus tells us to "show true humility toward all men" because "at one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy" (3:3).

The characters in Rush might not be God-focused, but the film is nevertheless the sort of compelling commercial entertainment that is by far the exception, not the rule, when it comes to Hollywood storytelling. Seeing a film put together with such skill is a reminder that Howard, who has made great films for family audiences, can deliver more mature storytelling that feels effortless as it unfolds. The filmmakers (Howard plus screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen) and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)) are among the best in the business, and with Rush, they've made one of the 2013's best movies.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers): 

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; multiple uses of the f-word; other foul language; a middle finger extended
  • Drinking/Smoking: A racing team owner drinks; celebratory drinking; smoking and drug use; it's noted that race sponsors don’t include cigarette brands or condoms; a wife tells her husband she knows about his "drinking, dope, infidelity and booze;" a character says, "I shall be getting drunk"
  • Sex/Nudity: Two people have sex in a shower, and a woman's breast is seen; a man and woman, bare backsides exposed, fall onto a mattress; a logo reads "sex;" women wear skimpy outfits; more sex and exposed breasts
  • Violence/Crime: Violent racing crashes; severe injuries and treatments are shown; vomiting
  • Religion/Morals/Marriage: Marriage is said to sound "awful;" a wedding; marital spats, and the disintegration of a marriage; discussion of racers' closeness to death; last rites are administered; a man says he told a priest to "f--- off;" talk of how a perceived curse can actually be a blessing; a confession of envy

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Publication date: September 27, 2013