Film Review: Rush

by Chad Liffmann on September 30, 2013

Rush is a fantastic, tense drama, and character driven.

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl revving their dramatic chops

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl revving their dramatic chops

I don’t care for racing.  It doesn’t interest me and I think the culture surrounding it is silly and uninviting.  That being said, if I were forced at gunpoint to choose a type of car racing to watch, it would be Formula 1 racing.  There’s a dynamic of risk and impending disaster, along with more beautiful environments, in Formula 1 racing.  Rush, the new movie from director Ron Howard about a 1970’s rivalry in Formula 1 racing, is not only a great racing movie and a great sports movie, but a great drama.  Spearheaded by solid direction and terrific performances, Rush also contains all the right pieces fitted together to complete the whole package — impeccable editing, strong writing, and thrilling cinematography.

Ron Howard is getting a lot of attention these days for his ability to amicably tackle a surprising amount of genres and sub-sections of films.  Rush signals his first foray into the sports genre (unless you count Cinderella Man, which I don’t).  It follows the real life story of James Hunt (Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth), the playboy British driver who was as debaucherous off the track as he was skilled on it, and Hunt’s rivalry with the rat-faced Austrian driver, Niki Lauda (Inglourious Basterds’ Daniel Brühl).  The film doesn’t take a look at either racer’s childhood, instead it focuses on their time as “enemies”.  It’s worthy to note, however, that the finely crafted script by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), takes time to show Hunt and Lauda in their respective lives outside the raceway.  These scenes are fascinating in the way the two supposed opposites handle their respective familial, social, and romantic involvements.  Their entanglements on the raceway are fun to watch, even if they do take some cinematic liberties.  Hunt and Lauda’s determination for victory at the cost of the other’s humiliating defeat, as well as the required life or death decisions they make due to a sport known for injuries and fatalities, makes for a compelling story about character rivals.  Luckily the actors are up to the challenge.

Hemsworth, taking the sexy swagger from his popular Thor character but not the demigod’s manners, does a noteworthy job at capturing Hunt’s playboy lifestyle and timidly carefree approach to the sport.  We can sense his own self doubt and depression underneath the smiles, sex, and booze.  Hunt lives only for the moment.  When he takes the time to consider the future, he loses himself.  This is a far cry from Lauda, played with excellent conviction by Brühl.  The German actor transforms into the character, utilizing the mannerisms of a recluse, and a loser, to channel the passion and determination to succeed.  Both Hunt and Lauda have their primary love interests, played by Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara, respectively.  They’re pretty and fairly one-dimensional, and assuredly this is due to the focus being on the two leads and of course, the races.

The racing sequences are absolutely exhilirating.  Howard and his production team do fine work in finding the right balance of quick cuts and extended shots, enabling a frenetic yet easy-to-follow pace.  When there’s a crash, it’s felt.  The camera doesn’t shy away from the carnage involving man or machine.  At just over two hours, the amount of Hunt/Lauda races does tend to become a bit redundant, even anti-climactic.  It’s easy to tell that Howard and Morgan tried hard to find the select few races to really focus on, the ones that were significant turning points.  For the most part, they did a great job choosing.  The art direction and set/costume designs are uncannily authentic.  Just Google or YouTube search footage from their races and you’ll recognize some of the same outfits, decals, etc.  An acute attention to detail was obviously part of plan.

For those that don’t know the story, I won’t ruin how it played out in real life.  You should really go find out for yourself.  What I will say is that the emotional final few minutes were edited and written in a way that stuck with me long after the credits rolled.  Rush crosses the finish line strong.

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Rush is now playing in Bay Area theaters.

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