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Rush doesn't even have a whole lot of uplift as it cuts briskly between (and contrasting) Hunt's hard-partying gregariousness of Hunt and Lauda's hilarious brusqueness. Hemsworth turns on the movie-star charm—there's a reason his brother Liam is Hemsworth the Lesser—but Bruhl, who sometimes looks a bit like Will Arnett, is the real standout, expertly wielding his surly anti-charisma. Howard's work is more stylish than usual, shooting (or computer-processing, or both) his movie through a nostalgic-looking grain that blends the outsize colors (the reds, yellows, and greens of the cars and their drivers' uniforms pop out) and the many visual effects shots. The racing scenes aren't, for the most part, nail-biting—there are too many laps around a track to really sustain suspense. But Howard amps up the rumbling soundtrack and goes in for close-ups of car parts where outside elements (sky, rain, the other cars) poke through from the background; the smallish Formula One cars, with their drivers' heads poking out, look more like extensions of the human beings inside than the NASCAR imagery we're used to.
After an hour or so of these quick cuts, rumbling motors, and worried wives, though, Rush threatens to coast. Then the movie turns on a track disaster (not uncommon in those days of Formula One) that leaves leading contender Lauda charred in a hospital and Hunt taking the lead. Lauda's accident elevates the rivalry—intensifying it while also giving both men a hard-won respect of each other—and it boosts the movie, too, as it considers the way a testy competition can enrich lives (call it a lofty interpretation of frenemies). It's a relatively short distance to travel over two hours, especially when Bruhel and Hemsworth all but recite the movie's themes to each other by the end. But their final scene together is faintly touching nonetheless. The modesty of that moment, and of the movie's ambitions, make this one of Howard's most engaging films in years.