Loud, proud, and relentless in its portrayal of sport rivals, Ron Howard’s Rush is another entry into his formulaic and conventional directing resume. Like any well oiled machine, Howard is an expert of giving audiences a fundamentally linear narrative with striking and beautiful aesthetic choices, even if the narrative follows the rivalry between two Formula One drivers whose careers and competition is anything but straight-cut.
Rush isn’t the best film of the year by far, and in terms of narrative the film suffers from clichéd plot-points, predictable sport film tropes and by-the-book autobiographical rules, but one of the highlights of Rush is the effortlessness of telling the story of two incredible men’s lives, without making one or the other the lead protagonist or antagonist. Rush is the true story of two passionate and talented drivers whose race to becoming the Formula One World Champion is something quite unbelievable.
The film begins in the middle of its narrative, at the beginning of the 1976 German Grand Prix in Nürburgring, mere moments before Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) experiences what is suspected to be a rear suspension failure that hospitalized him for a month and a half. We then flashback to 1970 at a Formula Three race in the Crystal Palace circuit in England where the rivalry between Lauda and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) begins. Destined to be rivals since their initial meeting, the film follows the trails and tribulations of Lauda and Hunt’s fight to the Formula One circuit. Lauda, a mechanical genius who uses his skills on cars to earn his spot beside Clay Regazzoni (Pierfrancesco Favino) and the Scuderia Ferrari racing team, shows skill as a engineer but suffers socially, proving to be somewhat inept when it comes to interacting with people. While Hunt, an unapologetic, globetrotting playboy, seems to have no problems interacting with his fans (maybe a little too often). Where Hunt lacks for meticulous calculations and mechanical understanding, things Lauda posses, Hunt makes up for in raw talent, ambition and “balls”.
The film chronicles not only an intense rivalry set in the dangerous world of Formula One Racing, but the film also depicts a rivalry of wits between two men, who suffer and sacrifice so much for respect in a world inhabited by high-adrelanline, death-defying racers.
Rush is definitely a return to form for Howard, who, after the problematic and chaotic The Dilemma, had a lot to prove aesthetically and narratively. Aesthetically, Howard had his wheels spinning uncontrollably with inspiration. From the film’s 1970’s grainy look, to its very artistic slow-motion racing scenes (which acts as a nice irony to the sport), to the choice of camera angles when covering the pivotal scenes of the race, usually shooting at a very low angle, Howard does use the film to solidify his place as a stylistic filmmaker again, as he did previously with Cinderella Man, Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind.
Howard surrounded himself with the best this time around, and made no mistakes. With a modest $38 Million budget for a Hollywood film, Howard was able to create an high-octane Formula One film, grounded as a character piece. Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen), shot by Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire), Scored by Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight trilogy), and produced by film-extraordinaire and longtime collaborator Brian Grazer, Rush is assembled just like any other team in the Formula One cockpit, meticulously and strategically.
It also did not hurt that Howard was able to get Hemsworth out of Nordic armour and deliver his finest performance to date. The real star of the film is Brühl. Underrated and overlooked since his career-defining role in Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, Brühl inhabits his rat-like character and shows the intolerable side of a man obsessed with perfection, discontent with happiness, and who shows no emotional response to the fast pace world which exists around him. Brühl’s transformation into Lauda is one that will hopefully be acknowledged come award season.
Rush is a good film. More of a solid entry into the autobiographical sport genre, much like 42 earlier this year, the film lacks an intensity most great sport films have, which is the intensity of the sport itself. Some of the greatest sport movies ever made use the sport to elevate character progression, intense emotion or moments that audiences cheer for. There was never a rousing moment of triumph, pleasure or extreme emotion with our characters that took place on the racetrack. Unfortunately for the film, some of the best scenes happen on the streets of Italy, in the hospital, or in restaurants and furnace rooms where the characters grow and evolve; the racetrack is just a forum for winning.
Unfortunately for the audience, between near-fatal crashes, personal lows and tragic endings, Rush never emotionally resonates with us. Lacking for a connection with Hunt and Lauda, Howard doesn’t give the audience much time to connect with his drivers the way they do with their vehicles. “Men love women, even more than that, men love…cars!”. I don’t think there could have been a more accurate way to describe the film and the world where testosterone, ego, and fuel, pumps the veins in the hearts of each racer.
Night Film Reviews: 7/10 Stars