Rush pulsates with the thundering noise and 8-cylinder speed of the Formula 1 racecars it depicts.
Seeing an established filmmaker challenge him or herself, whether by embracing or eschewing technological advancements or adapting a wholly different visual approach, is always an exciting and welcome experience. Ron Howard, while not a great or important filmmaker, has, over his 30 years as a director, turned out more than a few very good films. His comedies of the 1980s and more serious films of the 1990s were, and still are, routinely praised and beloved by movie fans. Are any of the entries in his filmography evidence of truly great filmmaking? No, but he is consistently serviceable.
With Rush, Howard (finally) pushes himself artistically as a visual storyteller, the result being his most visceral work to date. Thanks in large part to cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, Rush pulsates with the thundering noise and 8-cylinder speed of the Formula 1 racecars it depicts. Most American audiences will be as familiar with Formula 1 racing as they are with cricket, but Rush may lead a sea change in how we view this adrenaline-fueled sport.
The rivalry between racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is legendary. During the 1970s, the two men rose to fame in tandem but through very different means. Hunt earns his way into the racing world by racing as fast and as frequently as possible, while Lauda uses his family’s vast wealth to buy his way in. Hunt is a daring and reckless driver who proves himself on the track by being the fastest and gutsiest. Lauda, on the other hand, is more cautious and calculating, but what he lacks in intestinal fortitude he makes up in engineering brilliance. Two better rivals could not have been manufactured in a lab.
At the height of the battle for first place in what would become the historic 1976 season, Lauda is involved in a horrible crash during a race that traps him in his car and results in massive burns over much of his body. As Lauda recuperates, Hunt is able to close the gap between his second place position and Lauda’s secure first place standing. This gives Lauda the motivation and strength to heal with superhuman-like ability and get back in his racecar a mere six weeks after his near fatal crash. The final battle between the two men is as gripping as it is poetic.
Much of Rush’s heart-pounding action is thanks to Mantle’s incredible work behind the camera, once again showing off his distinct visual style, which we’ve seen in his work with Danny Boyle on such films as 28 Days Later and 127 Hours. The Formula 1 racecars are as much characters as Hunt and Lauda, and Mantle treats them with as much respect. The camera captures every aspect of these super-powered machines, from their enormous tires to the inner-workings of their engines (with the aid of some nifty CGI). We alternate between intense POV shots to playing witness during the tensest moments of a race, both of which are outright captivating.
Where the film falters, sadly, is in its poor storytelling approach. While Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) continues to be a favorite screenwriter of Hollywood elites, he is yet to learn how real people speak or behave. Hunt spits out lines as asinine as “I was born ready!” while Lauda is stuck speaking in ridiculously mundane platitudes. Howard and Morgan would have served themselves and their story better had they decided early on whether they would focus on the racing rivalry or the off-the-track love lives of Hunt and Lauda. Hunt has several women fade in and out of his life, including model/actress Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde doing an almost decent British accent), but none are ever fully drawn. Meanwhile, Lauda meets and marries a very intelligent and articulate woman named Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) who is given no motivation for putting up with his selfish actions and attitude.
Rush is a great movie to see on the big screen, as any other forum will devalue the film’s visual achievements. Howard deserves credit for attempting something far outside his comfort zone, but his lack of concern for coherent storytelling ultimately undoes any good will he may receive from audiences. | Matthew Newlin