2013, 123mins, 15
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Peter Morgan
Cast includes: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Natalie Dormer, Christian McKay
UK Release Date: 13th September 2013
It’s probably a matter of personal opinion, but I must confess the notion of a biopic chronicling a Formula 1 rivalry during the seventies, directed by Ron Howard, isn’t really the sort of cinematic proposition that gets my mouth salivating. Tossing in an aspiring A-list hunk looking to prove his chops (Chris Hemsworth) and a bulky 123 minute runtime doesn’t really add much spice to the concept – all of this fuelling the suspicion that “Rush” might simply amount to calculated Oscar bait. Consider me shocked to find the picture such an invigorating joy, a blisteringly acted and dramatically gripping endeavour, that doesn’t struggle to engage with even Formula 1 newbies like myself. Howard remains a director committed to the basics of Hollywood film-making; but here his execution of said fundamentals is largely flawless, delivering a visually dynamic depiction of competitive hatred and uber masculinity.
“Rush” concerns itself with the animosity between British party-boy James Hunt (Hemsworth) and clinical Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), two men with very different lifestyles but one shared goal; to become the premier global name in F1 racing. From the earliest stages of their relationship heat sparked, as the two drivers jostled to get a foothold in the sport, each exhibiting the potential to become a champion. “Rush” dramatizes their hostile yet inextricably linked pasts, leading up the famed 1976 season where their conflict hit new heights of global fascination and meaning.
Like most biopics the performances are crucial, and in this department “Rush” needs no improvement. Hemsworth is a charming, rakish dare-devil of the most watchable sort, showboating for the camera with maddening charisma, yet also finding moments of devastating pathos in Hunt’s journey. “The Avengers” star perhaps doesn’t move as far out of his comfort zone as hoped (both Hunt and Thor are charged by ego), but there’s definitely more fat here than the actor is used to chewing, especially in introspective moments of loneliness, alcohol dependency and fractured romance. Each area is covered delicately by Morgan’s screenplay, but Hemsworth does a stellar job of bringing the writing to life convincingly. In many ways though, “Rush” is Daniel Bruhl’s picture, the “Inglourious Basterds” star inflicting Lauda with very different vulnerabilities. Lauda was essentially the antithesis of Hunt’s magnetic booze-swilling sex-bomb; a quiet, cold and methodical racer, more interested in tinkering with statistics and mechanics than committing to Hunt’s obsession with heart-stopping speed. Lauda is definitely a less cinematic character than his opposition, but Bruhl gets inside the Austrian’s headspace marvellously, communicating a struggle to connect with people or come to terms with notions of failure. Hemsworth and Bruhl do a magnificent job of fuelling their onscreen chemistry with palpable disdain, leading to entertaining outbursts but also moments of personal clarity and openness. As someone unsure of what the real Hunt and Lauda were like, I’m unable to comment on the realism of either turn, but both thespians prove capable and stimulating ciphers for Morgan’s impeccably structured drama.
“Rush” is definitely more visually ambitious than the usual Ron Howard film, something likely attributable to the presence of gifted cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. Mantle gets the camera into the tightest of spots, exploring the intricacies of the cars with kinetic force whilst simultaneously showcasing the fragility of the drivers’ safety gear and automobiles. The race sequences are captivating, coherent editing playing its part in the success, but Mantle’s unique photographic eye and Morgan’s sublimely mounted script are the core reasons they work so well. The speed, elegance and threat of doom are essayed with magnificent poise and thrust, the races shot with legitimate bombast, but Morgan does such a fabulous job of making audiences care. Each race represents a significant development in the Lauda/Hunt dynamic, vast consequence riding on the outcome of every lap. It’s a faultless achievement in storytelling, Morgan tirelessly making every set-piece count in the development of characters with which tangible fascination sprouts naturally. It’s this creative connection that instils “Rush” with undeniable blockbusting firepower.
The 70s period detail doesn't feel contrived or forced and the sound design is incredible. Each thundering challenge shakes the auditorium- as engines whir and vehicles collide – “Rush” pleasuring every sensory capacity in the book. The feature does dissect different strains of the male condition (and indeed what it means to prize victory over all else) remarkably, although such attention may isolate female viewers somewhat. This isn’t strictly a criticism, rather an observation, everything from the sexual politics, forced isolation and “dick-measuring” that often characterises Hunt and Lauda commands so many of their chief interactions. There’s not really any other way you could effectively retell this tale, but it’s worth noting that men are likely to see the picture as a mirror, and thusly connect more thoroughly with the central figures. That’s not a compliment to the gender, but it’s an indication of how complete the Hunt and Lauda of “Rush” are.
At 123 minutes “Rush” never feels frustrated or overwrought, Howard having crafted a product that balances aesthetic delight with dramatic poise seamlessly. No knowledge of the sport is required to appreciate this tremendous piece of film-making, although a strong stomach for the testosterone governed weaknesses of souls possessing both an X and Y chromosome is advised. It’s a stirring motion picture event.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013