Rush (2013) / Drama-Action
MPAA Rated: R for a sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use
Running Time: 123 min.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Alexandria Maria Lara, Olivia Wilde, Pierfrancesco Flavino, Christian McKay
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Peter Morgan
Review published September 28, 2013
Rush follows the real-life rivalry among two Formula One drivers, British racer James Hunt (Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Bruhl, The Bourne Ultimatum), in the mid-1970s. Not only were the two elite drivers at odds on the track, they were also polar opposites off of it, with the flashy Hunt a hedonistic playboy who lived like there was no tomorrow, and uber-controlled Lauda completely professional and averse to unnecessary risk, the epitome of all work and no play. In 1976, both men find themselves in a heated contest for the World Drivers' Championship, with Lauda taking an early lead in the contest, and Hunt beginning to gain some ground. The men's hatred toward one another drives their passion to win, and not even near-death collisions will keep each man from trying to make sure that the other isn't getting the grand prize at the end.
Directed by Ron Howard (Angels & Demons, Frost/Nixon), from a screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen), Rush takes a sport that, while it has its passionate devotees, isn't largely followed by the mass public at large, and makes it one of the most exciting films about any sport in recent years. Interestingly, it isn't for the actual sports footage itself that Rush manages to be exciting, but for the stakes involved in the pride of the two men, whose passion to be the best only intensified to life-and-death levels because they couldn't live seeing their hated rival holding up the trophy in victory.
Interestingly, neither man is painted as the 'good guy' or 'bad guy', as each driver has personality traits that are of definite appeal, and also character flaws that make them at times quite unlikeable. These are two men with egos so large that they feel they can't be contained in their bodies, and often get in the way of their ability to think rationally. Though we might settle on rooting for one or the other during the course of the film, it's difficult not to root for both at the same time, This is especially true in the film's ending, in which it is not quite clear for a few moments whether it will be Hunt who is the World Champion, or if Lauda will retain his title. Either way, we'd feel a bit bad for the one who got so close and fell just short after all of the effort they put into it.
Auto racing is made for the cinema, with its mix of sight, sound and speed. However, very few directors are able to adequately capture the excitement of the sport, and possibly none have done it in the feature-film arena the way that Ron Howard does here. The racing scenes are not only beautifully shot, featuring cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle (Dredd, The Eagle), but they are edited in tight and very fluid fashion from frequent Howard collaborator Dan Hanley (The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man). Along with its fantastic use of sound, and the build-up provided in Morgan's screenplay, the scenes of racing are truly electrifying. Howard's career, like the racetrack, comes full circle, as his very first feature as a director had been a car flick done for Roger Corman, Grand Theft Auto.
Though, like most Peter Morgan screenplays, the dialogue can tend to seem a bit goofy and the real-life events are altered in obvious ways in order to conform to conventional dramatic structure (the most glaring example being that Hunt and Lauda, in real life, were friendly and cordial toward each other), Rush manages to overcome narrative pitfalls not only due to Howard's command of the visual flow, but also thanks to the the dynamic actors who embody the engaging personalities of its characters. Though Hemsworth's face gets to grace the poster, and he gets to play the 'fun' part of the supremely cocky James Hunt, it is really the more subdued and disciplined character of Niki Lauda, played with great presence by trilingual actor Daniel Bruhl, that makes the drama fascinating. We expect Formula One drivers to be thrill-seekers by nature, but here we have the rare competitor who despises taking more than a '20% risk' or driving faster than he has to. His philosophy on driving is often used for comic effect because he takes his idiosyncratic views so seriously. Though he eschews the need for being liked or making friends, he grows on you; there's just something inherently likeable about his uncompromising views on life.
Some critics have been reluctant to embrace Ron Howard as a great filmmaker due to his perceived lack of trademark styles and subject matter, and his sometimes safe, Oscar-seeking approaches, but I modestly disagree with this, as I do think he approaches most films the right way for that specific project. It is fully exemplified in Rush, as it is difficult to imagine the racing scenes being any more exciting to a non-fan of the sport, primarily because Howard takes the time to bring out the personalities of the main players and makes us care about them before they put on the helmet and start to circle the tracks. Even if you don't care for Howard's approach, it's hard to deny that he has a knack for bringing together the immense talent necessary to make a very respectable, professional film that is very easy and entertaining to watch.
It's not necessary to be a fan of Formula One to enjoy Rush, as it is really a story of two arrogant, personality-clashing adversaries who, deep down, had a mutual respect for each other, who saw in each other the need to test the limits of what they could do. Like the yin and the yang, they could not feel complete alone - to realize their potential - without the other's existence, as their rivalry not only drives their innermost passions to the forefront, but makes for compelling human drama in between the exceptionally crafted racing sequences.
©2013 Vince Leo