It’s that time of year between the end of summer and the beginning of the Oscar races when, traditionally, the genuine crap starts hitting the multiplexes. (You’ll also find crap from January to March, and, depending on your point of view, all year.)
Rush, Ron Howard’s latest, is not crap. It isn’t Oscar-worthy, either, but after Howard’s last few pictures—among them the abysmal The Dilemma and Angels & Demons—just good is a nice change.
Rush is a simple biopic of two men. The first is Formula 1 driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, who actually isn’t as good looking as Hunt was), a hard drinking, heavy smoking, drive-from-the-gut English stud with a privileged background, who would rather race cars than be a doctor. The other man is Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl, who’s better looking than his true-life counterpart; American audiences may know him best from Inglorious Basterds), an Austrian-born driver with impeccable race skills and discipline that makes him hard to beat.
Naturally, they hate each other. But over the course of the film they grow to respect each other as they prove to be the two best drivers of their era, the mid-1970s.
In real life, Hunt and Lauda liked each other much more than they do on the screen, but a screenplay without tension is boring. Maybe Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan thought the literally death defying driving wasn’t enough on its own. Maybe they saw Days of Thunder and thought, “Man we can do this much, much better, and with real people.”
Whatever the reasoning, Rush is quite a ride. It has nothing new to offer in terms of character development, racing insight or screenwriting, but it does several things well that make it fun.
First, there’s Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography, which captures the grit of racing along with the washed out colors we’ve come to associate with the 1970s, complete with the visible grain. Then there are the period details, from the clothing to the hairstyles, which manage to capture the look of the time without its inherent—in our memories, anyway—corniness.
Lastly, there’s the driving, which is shot in every possible way, from inside the cars, to above the racecourses, to on the ground. Mantle’s shots are well composed and the breakneck pacing of Daniel Hanley’s and Mike Hill’s editing is an aid, not a hindrance.
None of that would matter without two compelling leads, and Hemsworth and Brühl rise to the task of making the characters more interesting than the stunts (sorry, Paul Walker in the Fast & Furious series). Brühl, in particular, does excellent work, making Lauda both an irritating asshole and a likable realist. When he suffers a devastating crash, we’re really pulling for him.
Hemsworth is good enough. Though he doesn’t have much range as an actor, he’s found his niche—good looking tough guys with hearts of gold—and performs with vigor.
There are other characters, but they’re mostly used for comic relief or paper-thin character development. Olivia Wilde, as Hunt’s first wife, disappears almost as quickly as she arrives.
Lauda’s girlfriend and, later, wife, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), fares a little better. She and Brühl have two good scenes (though she hovers in the background looking concerned most of the time). The first, which has a good joke, is when their car breaks down on the side of the road, even if you can see the joke coming. The second is moments before they marry.
And there’s Lauda’s final voiceover, which puts his relationship with Hunt in touching perspective. Rush is good, not great, but hopefully signals a resurgence for Howard after years of stumbling and making movies that are, frankly, beneath him.
Directed by Ron Howard
With Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl and Olivia Wilde
Regal Santa Fe Stadium 14