Rush (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino, David Calder, Natalie Dormer, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, and Alistair Petrie.
Based on the two famous Formula One rivals who fought for the championship in 1976, Rush provides the perfect platform for Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl to shine as James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Peter Morgan’s strong screenplay allows the audience to understand and sympathize with both men, even if there are many reasons to dislike them.
Chris Hemsworth takes a break from his superhero roles (Thor, Avengers, Red Dawn) to step into the shoes of a mortal man. This mortal man, James Hunt, embodies the bad boy persona that brings women, by the hundreds, flocking to him. His talents in the bedroom dub him as “immortal” and Hunt even muses that it is a racer’s close relationship with death that thrills and attracts women like an aphrodisiac. Hunt sleeps around, drinks, parties, and puffs out his chest with a confidence unwarranted for a formula 3 driver.
Hunt’s care-not-attitude is challenged briefly when he meets supermodel Suzy Miller (Wilde). Wilde takes a small supporting character and uses her time on the screen wisely. Suzy’s sharp wit challenges Hunt to try “growing up” and the two quickly marry. Despite his volatile nature, Suzy held her own even when the two were not seen together. Wilde created a strong woman within limited screen time. Even-though the two divorce and she technically had an affair, Suzy is the only woman to walk out on Hunt instead of being abandoned after a night of fun.
Despite the outer shell, long locks, and smile, James Hunt has insecurities. Constantly losing to his rival Niki Lauda unsettles him. He vomits before races, to which the pit crew quips is a sign he’s focused. When in stressful situations, he flips a lighter open and shut, a quick snap of the hand, that no one ever seems to comment on. When the stress becomes too overwhelming, like his separation from Suzy, he turns to his vices and drowns himself in oblivion. It’s only after really losing something important (Suzy) that Hunt awakens a deep focus and drive to win.
If option one is not an enticing hero, the audience has option two, Nicki Lauda. Daniel Brühl, best known to the American audience as Fredrick Zoller in Inglorious Basterds, takes the role of the cool and calculating technical genius. Lauda throws away his family pedigree and takes out a loan to fund his driving passions. He in turn is a different kind of underdog and puts his career together piece by piece. Unlike James, Niki is not well liked; he makes enemies wherever he goes and on his very first day with his BRM team, he starts off on the wrong foot with his teammate Clay Regazzoni. Though humanizing, Lauda’s relationship with Marlene Knaus is more of a business strategy, she is a woman he can tolerate and that is good enough for him.
Lauda and Hunt flip-flop for the number one slate in racing and also for the adoration of film’s audience.
For the first half of the movie the viewer will root for Hunt, wanting to watch the reckless bad-boy commit and become serious about his racing. As a wild-child he lacked the discipline that Lauda used to gain his wins. When Hunt’s team fails to gain sponsors he is forced to swallow his pride and ask for help. The pressures and demons Hunt battles throughout the film are often expressed through the flip of the lighter cap and the steely glow behind his blue eyes. When Lauda miraculously survives a horrific car accident, the audience has a shift of attention and heart. Lauda’s fine veneer of witty insults and calculations fails him as he is stripped down to nothing but blood and burns. His new humility and this rawness makes him too human to bare at times. The audience must also watch Marlene, the dutiful and faithful wife, stand by his side as he rushes his recovery to return to the racetrack.
A few montages, perhaps a bit too extended, illustrate the power of the rivalry between the two men. For six weeks Lauda undergoes a series of painful operations all while eying the television, watching underdog James Hunt rack up points. Even as Hunt piles up wins there is a sense of disappointment. There is palpable tension during these moments coupled with the realities (and limitations) of the human body and the inability to shake one’s dream.
So much time is dedicated to the development of the film’s two complex characters that its visuals take a back seat. The cinematography follows a pattern of three – aerial shots, medium shots, and extreme close-ups. The aerial shots allow the viewer a chance to understand the racetrack and its dangers. The medium shots bring the audience back to the drivers, each with their different styles, cars, and loved ones. The extreme close ups, which I found most interesting, put the audience deep inside the car. We are eyewitnesses to the engines growling, pistons pumping, and gauges zipping. It also helped to also illustrate how fragile the cars were and how quickly a racer could lose his life. I also think the car was a deliberate metaphor to the internal workings of each driver: the car reflected the emotions of its driver.
Is this movie going to be a box office smash, that’s hard to say? I could see a large audience pull with Hemsworth starring but if you’re looking for action packed driving you’re better off turning to the Fast and Furious franchise. Instead of explosions and aerobatics, Rush focuses on the fragility and danger of the sport and the unique type of man it takes to jump behind the wheel. Rush gets high marks for its captivating story from two different perspectives. It’s refreshing too to have two very different heroes to root for and even as the film closes there’s no clear winner or loser. This intimate look in racing history warrants high praise, perhaps even a push for a supporting Oscar for Bruhl.