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'Rush' a cinematic thrill ride where strong characters drive the story

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TORONTO - A slew of low-slung cars may be speeding through the entire film, but it's the characters that really drive the story in "Rush."

Those behind the adrenaline-pumping flick which takes viewers into the world of Formula One racing during the glamorous '70s were determined to make more than a sports movie, aiming for a cinematic thrill ride that would appeal to a wide audience.

"Rarely do you get a film which ticks this many boxes. There's a popcorn entertainment element to it, yes, but it is surprising, exciting and there are real characters at the centre of it," Chris Hemsworth, who stars as charismatic British racer James Hunt, said during a visit to Toronto where the film was being screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The film, which is based on a true story, follows the intense rivalry between the over-the-top Hunt and Austrian racer Niki Lauda, his caustic polar opposite who is, despite his idiosyncrasies, a formidable force behind the wheel.

Rather than focus merely on the nail-biting races which made them stars, Hemsworth says the film's thorough development of the pair's personalities makes "Rush" a movie that people can relate to.

"The biggest thing is the honesty that they lived with, in different ways," said the strapping Australian actor who is perhaps best known for his leading role in the "Thor" films.

"We all wish we could be more truthful. We avoid conflict at certain times and we say what's politically correct instead of what we actually think. You watch these two spar off and there's no filter. I think there's something kind of refreshing about that."

Daniel Bruhl, who plays a convincing Lauda, said the lack of a defined hero and obvious villain make "Rush" all the more gripping.

"It's an interesting journey and it's a drama. It deals with two fascinating and very different characters, but it's not just an action race movie," said the "Inglourious Basterds" star, who took pains to perfect an Austrian accent for the film.

"I think it's great to not have conventional storytelling, to not have the one and only hero and the villain but two guys that you have empathy with."

Portraying Lauda was particularly intimidating for Bruhl because he had to deal with the real-life icon scrutinizing his work.

"It freaks you out a little bit, I must say, because he is a living legend," said the German actor, who worked to earn Lauda's respect and ended up consulting with him throughout the making of the movie.

"If that person is willing to support you and likes the project and supports it, then it makes life much easier. Then you actually have an advantage playing a real character because there's no better source than the living person."

"Rush" is directed by Ron Howard — the man behind titles like "Apollo 13" and "A Beautiful Mind" — who admitted he knew little about Formula One before making the film, but used his position as a racing rookie to his advantage.

"I knew the sport was a cinematic opportunity," he said. "I love drama, I love working with actors on challenging, interesting characters, and I felt that combining that with something as visceral and cinematic as Formula One was sort of a gift."

The film, which was scripted by Peter Morgan, features Olivia Wilde as Hunt's sultry love interest and Alexandra Maria Lara as Lauda's demure but beguiling partner.

Much like a race where anything can happen, Howard said "Rush" unfolds in unexpected ways — a quality he hopes viewers will appreciate.

"I think a lot of those twists and turns are exactly what people like because it's not going down the path the way they expected it might. And yet it's logical because it happened," he said.

"The guiding principle always was to keep telling the story and keep the movie psychological, so it was always heart and mind of the driver."

"Rush" opens in cinemas on Friday.

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