If you’re a fan of proper racing action in the movies, it doesn’t get better than Le Mans. The 1971 movie is notable not for Steve McQueen in the starring role, but for the virtually documentary-level attention to detail in the race scenes. Large portions of on-board footage were filmed at the actual 1970 race, and the rest of it at the same location afterwards. The resulting film had some sort of plot involving McQueen racing to avenge the death of his friend’s husband (or something), but it was the action sequences of Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512 that grabbed the attention and stayed in the mind.
That was 40 years ago, and no movie has really come as close to realistically portraying the world of motorsports since. Days of Thunder was pure Hollywood. Sylvester Stallone’s Driven was pure toss. Senna is awesome, but it’s a documentary. And Grand Prix, the only film we can think of to rival Le Mans’ action, was made five years beforehand.
So we’re pretty sceptical that any planned films about racing can be worth getting excited about, but we’ll admit that our interest has been piqued by director Ron Howard’s latest project. The man behind Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind has some impressive achievements on his resume (we’ll ignore The Da Vinci Code for now), and he’s in the early stages of Rush, a drama focusing on the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the infamous 1976 Formula 1 season. The 70s was a hugely important time in F1, when the transition was made from the death trap speed machines of the post-war period to the aerodynamic age that we’re still in today. And the paddock was full of characters; immense characters like Hunt and Lauda, Fittipaldi, Peterson and Ickx, Amon and Andretti. Many of the drivers that started their careers in the 70s wouldn’t see the decade out. There was glamour, danger and raw mechanical speed to Formula 1; it was a world before the sanitised corporate environment that the sport has become.
So far, details of Rush are limited. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) has been cast as James Hunt, while Daniel Bruehl (Inglourious Basterds) will play Lauda. Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) has written the script. All good signs.However, Howard has said in recent interviews that Rush will be “sizzling and sexy”, which doesn’t fill us with enthusiasm, and he’s also said that going to actual race venues to shoot is not a necessity, which is worrying. Please Ron, don’t let this be another unrealistic CGI fest. The source material is rich and the period machinery so exhilarating that to balls this up would upset a lot of petrolheaded movie-goers.