Rush

Rush-poster-Vogue-16Aug13-PR_b_1

Release: Thursday, September 26, 2013

[Theater]

2013 finds Ron Howard operating well within his comfort zone again, returning to construct the definitive racing film.

A gripping, polished and thoughtfully-crafted drama piece, Rush delves into one remarkable season of racing which would ultimately define the careers of two top performers in Formula 1.

Howard and comedy, it would seem, mix about as well as bald race tires on wet pavement (in case that’s not clear, not well). The unnecessary detour we took in 2011 with The Dilemma serves as a painful reminder that sometimes straying from the course carries more risk than reward. But perhaps it’s the fact that the man is coming out of the shadows of that terribly confusing, un-funny film that makes this particular movie such a euphoric experience.

Rush compares the passions of two fierce competitors in 1970s Formula 1 racing. The film is equally an action/drama as much as it is a cleverly constructed biopic;  red-headed Richie Cunningham devotes as much time and material to the British playboy James Hunt (here portrayed by a thoroughly entertaining Chris Hemsworth) and the starkly more disciplined and straight-edged Austrian, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), as he does to the critical developments on the racetracks.

I suppose seeing the film on an RPX screen helped bring the story to larger-than-life proportions. But that’s more of the icing on the cake, really. Peter Morgan, who also wrote Frost/Nixon and The Queen, is responsible for us feeling as though we have injected ourselves with extra adrenaline; that we’re trapped inside the claustrophobic cockpits of these exquisite automobiles. The only thing missing is the smell of burning motor oil, the cigars and the expensive perfumes and colognes. Morgan’s brilliant writing provides the sexy cast fully-realized characters that Hemsworth and Brühl simply run away with. (Or drive away with, if that metaphor suits you better.)

In the 70s, perhaps no rivalry was as bitter and as intense as the one dividing Hunt and Lauda, and Howard was keen to prioritize this aspect over the many other intricate details that comprise this project. One of the more compelling reasons to see this film is the simple fact that Howard does his damn research. Time and again he’s proven himself a director who pays attention to the details, no matter how technical the subject matter. In this case anyway, the material is as complicated as anything he’s ever dealt with (the adventures of Jim Lovell and company being a close second), yet you feel completely immersed in a world that is a near perfect-reflection of reality. Those who have come to love Howard’s style also trust in his earnestness.

Arguably the most rewarding aspect of Rush is the replication of the drivers’ less-than-pleasant relationship. Howard realizes its critical we know the personalities before we know their abilities; that we know what motivates each for taking the actions that they take. Consequently, when such decisions are made and certain events transpire, we care that much more for the people involved.

James Hunt bumps into the dark-haired, brusque Austrian racer one afternoon during a Formula 3 event — a lower-level form of the top-end race car circuit — and immediately there is tension between them. From the beginning its clear that Lauda is a technical perfectionist while Hunt enjoys bearing the fruits of his labor. . . and his good looks, of course. He’s the party animal; the one to be spraying a huge bottle of champagne after one race and puking minutes before the next. He’s the one to be bedding women like Olivia Wilde’s Suzy Miller. However, it is Lauda who is consistently described as “a genius in the car,” and given that Lauda’s generally unlikable persona made it more difficult (more like next to impossible) for him to get picked up by a team on his own merits, he has to struggle much harder to get in. Fortunately his efforts eventually pay off and in fact Ferrari signs him to their team.

Hunt’s lack of focus on (read: important) matters off the track results in his lack of sponsorship for the upcoming 1976 season, and though he jokes that all he needs on his car is something about cigarettes and condoms, its clear Hunt knows he’s in trouble.

Howard’s films typically are imbued with historically accuracy, and this one’s certainly no different. He accounts for every last detail surrounding racing as not only a sport, but a culture. A way of survival, even. From Lauda’s mechanical crew looking more than irritated having spent an entire night completely rebuilding his car to his exact specifications, to Hunt failing to attract new sponsors; from the quick, tight shots of the driver inside the car pushing down the pedals and switching gears, to slow-motion shots of the tires spinning in heavy downpours, Rush is almost poetic in its visual beauty and technical prowess. It could be Howard’s most immaculate project yet.

No moment in the film might exemplify the reality of driving for a living better than what happens to Niki Lauda one fateful day in Germany. Infamously referred to as ‘The Graveyard,’  the incredibly harrowing Nürburgring track is responsible for many, many serious accidents, a good number of which have been fatal. On the day of the race, the weather was anything but ideal. Heavy rains and low visibility prompted the incredibly intelligent Lauda to call a meeting in an attempt to boycott the race. Citing unreasonably high danger levels, Lauda was virtually alone in his position, as Hunt (at least in the film) points out that this would likely guarantee his (Lauda’s) win for the season, since cutting out the German Grand Prix would provide everyone else one less racing opportunity to catch up to him in the total points standings.

Later that day, Lauda’s car would be converted into a raging fireball after he overcorrects through a turn which inadvertently pierces the car’s fuel cell. The driver sat in a blistering inferno of over 800 degrees for about sixty seconds, causing irreparable damage to his face and lungs. He would spend roughly a month in the hospital recovering from horrific burns. Howard handles this pivotal moment with all the grace one could ever expect from him, and its really quite the gut-check time for both the other racers and us, the audience. It’s not an easy scene to witness.

This is a pivotal moment not only for the real-life champion, but relative to the film as well. Even if it’s a two-hour affair, this film simply flies by in no time at all. The film following the accident becomes twice as compelling, given the turn-around time for Lauda returning to the sport. Within four weeks, he’s back in the car, much to everyone’s amazement — particularly James Hunt’s. The film begs the question, what exactly separates the will to win versus the will to survive? In sports/careers in which the danger levels are directly proportional to the risks those individuals take, often the two overlap. Winning often means outlasting death. Losing means you played it too safe, or simply weren’t good/fast enough. And with Howard’s visionary style of directing, this is only part of the picture.

More than anything, Rush honors the legends that are Niki Lauda and James Hunt by shedding light on both their personal and professional lives (it doesn’t hurt either that the actors portraying them are strikingly similar in appearance) while never forcing the drama that came with the territory. Indeed, this develops as naturally as Howard’s confidence behind the camera has over a protracted career.

Formula 1 racing certainly approaches the top of the ladder in terms of the danger and the intrigue. Having experienced the United States Grand Prix in 2003 in Indianapolis, I can vouch for both, though fortunately me and my friends did not bear witness to anything near as dramatic as what happened to the formidable Austrian. It’s an interesting thought to entertain to consider what this film might have been like in the hands of anyone else other than those of Hollywood’s favorite ginger-haired director.

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4-0Recommendation: Race fans and Ron Howard devotees unite! Rush delivers upon almost everything promised by its enticing trailers, though it lacks a bit in some areas regarding the women who were behind the great drivers. Neither Wilde nor Alexandra Maria Lara (who plays Lauda’s wife, Marlene) are given much time to develop as characters at all. All the same, this is a wholly engaging experience that will have you whiteknuckled for most of its duration, and if you enjoy learning about the subject matter as much as you do witnessing it, this might just be the perfect movie for you. On that note, I fully expect this film to do far better in Europe than in America since the market for Formula 1 is nowhere near as demanding in the States unfortunately.

Rated: R

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “Don’t go to men who are willing to kill themselves driving in circles looking for normality.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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25 thoughts on “Rush

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    • Awesome, great to see another swooner for Ron Howard!!!!! 😀 I loved it as well, it was beautifully shot, excellently cast and acted, and the story was. . . wow. Freaking awesome movie, and I wouldn’t be surprised either if it makes its way towards the top of my Top ten of the year!

    • Ah, cheers Chris!! Rush was definitely spectacular. I’ve now seen it three times in the theater hahah. Each time I discover something new about it that I love. such a thoughtfully and accurately put-together film this was. Reminds me of why I love Ron HOward pictures and why it’s worth anticipating them months and months in advance. 🙂

  6. A really wonderful film and a worthy one to get an 8/8. Didn’t expect to love this one as much as I did. Formula 1 racing doesn’t get much attention in the U.S. Just goes to show, you can make a great film about anything if you’ve got a great story and characters.

    Yes the female parts weren’t as developed, but this really wasn’t a film about them anyway. I love that hitchhiking scene . The look on Alexandra Maria Lara’s face was priceless.

    Great review!

    • Thanks Mark!! Great reference there, too. I agree, the “women behind the drivers” didn’t really need to be embellished upon too too much. I suppose it was more of me being disappointed by a lack of Olivia Wilde in this. ggrrrrrr.r…… lol

    • Yeah I had read somewhere actually that said there wasn’t “enough racing” in this film. I would have to fully fully disagree with whoever said that because I just feel like those parts, while they were certainly well done and visually spectacular, they weren’t at the center of the story. True, the rivalry was a bit played-up for the film, but I thought it worked on so many levels any fault I could find with it I quickly forgot about.

      Btw, been meaning to ask you Mark, do you always sit three rows back from the screen?? I hope that’s the case for this one. *neck cramp*

    • Thank you, thank you!! It’s an incredibly powerful film. Loved every bit of it. I had high expectations beforehand and damn near every one of them was met or even exceeded. Can’t wait to read your thoughts on this. It’s been winning over non-fans of the genre so that’s gotta say something. 🙂

      • though my attention to racing these days has slowly waned, you have NO idea how much of a racing geek I was back in high school. LOVED formula 1. NASCAR, eh,….okay maybe not so much. . 😛

  7. Couldn’t agree more. This was a great film. Hard to combine action and (not one, but two) bio pic, but Howard does so brilliantly.

    • Exactly, there was a lot going on here but somehow he managed to balance it all. Glad you got to see this one quickly, it really was a great one. Definitely one of my favorites of the year.

  8. Looks like you loved it just like I did! I agree that the casting director’s did a fantastic job. Bruhl IS Lauda.

    How highly does this rank in your end of the year list? For me, it’s around 3rd although we still have some very strong releases to come!

    • hey Ben, awesome! i enjoyed the hell out of this, it was Howard at his very best I thought. Can’t believe how much both Bruhl and Hemsworth fully embodied the actual drivers, not only thru their performances but their physical appearance!! haha it’s crazy.

      as far as ranking this, man that’s gonna be a challenge, but as of now it’s gotta be at least top five. there’s a lot of greatness still to come though between now and december so we’ll have to see. i hope it stays in the top 10 though! 🙂

  9. Good review Tom. It’s exciting and compelling, even while it being based on real events. Even then though, you never quite know how it pans out, which adds more suspense and tension.

    • Great points! Howard does this so well with this stories. The development of the characters and action sequences keep you guessing til the very end, and this movie really showcased him at his best (in my opinion). I was a little disappointed however in how little Olivia Wilde was utilized here. 😦

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