Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriter: Peter Morgan
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Pierfrancesco Favino, Natalie Dormer, David Calder, Alexandra Maria Lara,
Running time: 123 minutes
A true depiction of the fiery relationship between rival racers James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Nicki Lauda (Bruhl) during the 1976 F1 season, at a time when the sport was at its most dangerous.
Walking into any new Ron Howard movie is a bit like walking into a minefield. There’s 50% chance you’ll find your way to the other side, everything intact, and feel great about it. You might even want to go home and recommend the experience to your friends. But there’s an equal 50% chance you’ll step on the wrong bit and lose it all. If you look at films like Frost/Nixon, Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, he’s clearly a very capable director who knows his stuff. After sitting through Rush, that image is untarnished, yet it makes you wonder how the man at the helm of such achievements is capable of sabotaging himself with the likes of the not terrible but severely underwhelming Angels & Demons, or that awful Vince Vaughn/Kevin James “comedy” The Dilemma. How does that work?
So, Rush brings us into the world of Formula 1. It’s probably worth mentioning that I’m not a fan of the sport at all (I’ve watched maybe one race in my life), and I really don’t know very much about it. It’s for people like me, then, that Peter Morgan’s extremely explanatory script is conditioned for. On one side of the spectrum the elementary level of doled out information isn’t a problem as it opens the film up to a much wider audience (you really don’t have to be a fan of F1 or know anything about it to enjoy this), but on the other side it comes across as perhaps just a bit too on the nose. Some of the exposition in the earlier stages of the film is so afraid to leave any room for ambiguity, and exposes not only events in the drama as it’s designed to, but also Morgan’s determination to make sure everyone knows exactly what’s happening and why. There isn’t necessarily a problem with such straight-cut exposition, it’s just that more often than not there are ways to get the same information across without having to shout it in the audience’s face, and I imagine that those who do know a thing or two about the sport might get fed up and just want to get on with it. I can’t deny, of course, that the information provided helped my car-illiterate mind with some of the more technical aspects, but on dramatic terms it doesn’t always work.
Yet the script is also a very clever beast. It figures out a way of playing these two polar opposite leads against each other without making one the ostensible “baddie” and the other the “goodie”. Hunt is a charismatic, free-spirited, ridiculously good-looking playboy whom everyone loves, while Lauda is calm, calculated and driven by logic. Throughout the course of the drama we fluctuate between complete sympathy and downright contempt for both of them, whether it’s Lauda’s unfathomable insistence that “happiness is a weakness”, or Hunt’s deplorable tendency to shun and use people whenever it suits him. What’s further impressive is the pacing, which feels a little squiffy at first, but actually mirrors the two personalities, shifting between a little wild and erratic for Hunt’s sequences to slow and conventional for Lauda’s.
To bring such contrasting, divisive characters to the screen and then devote enough time and attention to both to allow the audience to relate equally is impressive, and it’s in no small part due to Hemsworth and Bruhl’s great performances. Hemsworth is solid, gets the job done. His English accent isn’t too problematic (although I’ve heard a few complaints), and he brings James Hunt to life admirably. Daniel Bruhl, though, is just fantastic as “The Rat”. It was in Inglourious Basterds that I first took note of him, and while we still haven’t seen him in much over here, he’s certainly an impressive and exciting talent. I think it would be hard to find two more suitable actors for the lead roles.
For all the qualities the film has, Howard’s direction, ultimately, is what wins the day. All things considered, it’s a movie about racing, so the race sequences have to be believable, and the race sequences in Rush are just so well handled. Howard captures the raw danger and intensity of it all perfectly, and you really do feel nervous for the drivers, whether you know the outcome or not (I didn’t). The roar of the engines riddles through your gut, the zip of a tire as it rushes past the lens raises the heartbeat, the water as it sprays behind a spinning wheel prickles the spine. When the race gets going, matched with Zimmer’s superlative soundtrack which once again gets it just right, we’re locked in a relentless, full-throttle death match.
Rush may not break any boundaries, but it does cement Howard as an extremely accomplished director – when he wants to be. Reverent but not laudatory, sentimental but not saccharine, it’s an exciting, intelligent and rather unexpected treat.