Published on February 20th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Summary: Much poetic license was taken in telling this film's true story but 'Rush' is a hell of an entertaining ride. Lots of testosterone is crammed into arguably Ron Howard's rawest picture.
R | 122 mins.
Director: Ron Howard | Screenplay: Peter Morgan
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl
Distribution: Universal Pictures (USA)
Focusing a film on fast, loud cars is about like shooting photographs of puppies and babies, it’s really difficult to mess up. Something about the way engine rumbling your speakers to near-earthquake levels, the beautiful design of the body, the painstaking choreography of a thrilling chase sequence and the constant threat that something will go horribly wrong any minute mean car movies almost always work on some level.
Rush is not a car movie. That is to say, unlike The Fast and the Furious, its vehicles are not the stars. This is a film about two very different men, who happen to drive fast for a living, discovering a mutual respect for one another.
Ron Howard teams up again with screenwriter Peter Morgan for another film about a tense one-on-one showdown. 2008’s Frost/Nixon, based on Morgan’s play, was a fantastic movie centered on two men whom might as well have been inside a boxing ring. That film’s battle of wits and mental prowess between Richard Nixon and journalist David Frost in 1977 is countered here by the daring mental battle between Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) in 1976.
The film starts as Hunt and Lauda are trying to make their names in the sport’s minor leagues. Morgan’s script immediately drives home the vast differences between the two men off the track–something that the film will continue to do relentlessly until about 100 minutes in. Hunt is a British-born thrill seeker with a devil-may-care attitude and rugged good looks to match…basically the caricature of a race car driver that we all imagine. Lauda, meanwhile, comes off as a total nerd, not the lovable Tri-Lamb sort but the kind that’s devoid of any desire to have fun. While Hunt is banging a random nurse on the examination table we see Lauda pissing off a senior group of mechanics by telling them how to do their jobs.
I was confused by one early scene, in fact the first full race sequence. Music Supervisor Nick Angel covers the scene with “Gimme Some Lovin'”, the great rocker by The Spencer Davis Group–this is a solid choice for any scene where badassery is on display, but haven’t I heard it somewhere before? …Oh that’s right, it was playing over the opening race scene in Tony Scott’s NASCAR classic Days of Thunder! That happens to be one of my favorite examples of pairing a particular song with moving images so I was dumbstruck when I heard the same tune used in an identical way in this picture. I’m going to hope it was an homage because if not, it was just pure laziness on the part of Rush‘s crew.
From the research I did, it’s obvious Morgan’s script takes a ton of poetic license in telling the story of Lauda and Hunt. Apparently, the two men were merely professional rivals, who actually got along well off the track. In real life, the pair were actually roommates for a period of time, something that missed Morgan’s one-dimensional image of these men’s relationship. They also never faced off at London’s Crystal Palace track in Formula Three, as an early scene depicts–but these factual sacrifices are made to further the bigger idea.
This movie definitely drips with masculinity and testosterone, but I was surprised the movie felt so safe. Although we are dealing with a sport that’s rife with danger and death, the movie’s look is so glossy that it takes the edge off. The costumes and hair are fantastic in establishing the mid-70s setting of Rush, but one pivotal scene was undone by shoddy special effects in my opinion.
In a bit of opening narration, Lauda foreshadows to the audience that he will be involved in a serious wreck by the end of the film and when that happens, an unconvincing digital effects shot is used to show the crash. When we first saw the shuttle take off in 1995’s Apollo 13, it was pretty damn amazing for the time but when it comes to car crashes, CGI is almost never the way to go. A few scenes later, Howard uses the actual archival broadcast footage of Lauda’s fiery crash to depict other people’s reactions, I feel if he would have just stuck with that approach from the start, it would have had more impact and been much more subtle…but then again, this is a flick about hot, nasty, bad-ass speed.
The performances of Hemsworth and Brühl are paramount to the success of Rush. At least one of their characters are in every scene so if either had slacked, it would have tanked the whole deal, making it a blessing that they are both so convincing. They both do a nice job of showing all sides of these two competitors–including the distinct demons they dealt with off the track. Rush‘s tagline reads: “Everyone is driven by something,” and it proves to be a fitting summary of the movie’s narrative. These guys race for different reasons and took completely different paths to get to the track but are united in their desire to stand above one other.