Riveting, thrilling, heart-wrenching, captivating, inspiring – these are all ways to describe Ron Howard’s Rush.
Before I dig deeper into this review, you must realize that I consider myself anything but a Formula One fan, plus, being born in 1994 really doesn’t contribute to my understanding of what really happened between these two great drivers in 1976. My principal point here is that despite my lack of knowledge and expectations, the film blew me away. It was so gratifying that I find myself sitting here writing a review of applause for a film that I nearly disregarded.
With Rush, Ron Howard and his implausible crew have reached out to a far wider audience then the petrol heads that I presume are Formula One fans. Lets hope their not annoyed by this! To be honest, if I was around in the 70s I might have actually been a fan if the rush of the sport was anything like depicted here (the mind-blowing British documentary Senna does justice to this notion also). Rush is alive with a profound and moving story. It is ultimately a film about two charismatic heroes; it playfully allows the viewer to either commiserate with the eccentric playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) or the critical hermit Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), or both. It is this interpersonal freedom that truly spellbound me to the picture.
On the track, the relationship between the two drivers is always explosive as they battle it out for the 1976 World Championships. These race scenes may be cinematically astounding and hold their own prodigious narrative, but it is the contrasting lives and philosophies off these two characters which really act as a significant counterpart to driving this story. The film winds itself into an epic, possibly overpitched, biopic drama of these two notorious drivers.
What’s more, the casting of these two characters plays out to perfection. Chris Hemsworth is effortless and uncanny in his portrayal of James Hunt, capturing Hunt’s wide smile, frivolous hair and amiable behaviors. However, you could argue that Hemsworth is never entirely called upon to examine the obvious inner demons of a man who constantly chases thrill and pleasure would have. Hunt, seemingly never allows himself actual happiness. Consequently Olivia Wilde’s role as Hunt’s first wife Suzy Miller is unexploited, the great accumulation and subsequent breakdown of this relationship is never explored in any fulfilling detail. On the other hand, Lauda, engrossingly played by Buhr has more depth added into his romantic subplot. Lauda’s eventual wife Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara) even has the power to subdue his almost maliciously, stubbornly cold exterior (“If I’m going to do this with anyone,” he tells her on their wedding day, “it might as well be you.”) Yet at the same time she brings natural love upon a man who believes “happiness is an enemy.” Hunt may have attracted more attention from the media (had sex with more women, taken more drugs, drank more alcohol), but it is Lauda who comes off as the ominously more fascinating and complex figure.
This complexity of Lauda’s character is a “European perspective” says Ron Howard during an interview on the Film 4 Programme. Whereas he implies the Americans prefer Hunt – he fits the American hero driven creed far better than Lauda who is just an intellectual dud. Though, Europeans could argue that Lauda is the hero for tolerating defeat in a tranquil fashion. That would be my argument. The societal divide couldn’t be clearer between the two. Lets look at the realities: The Germans undoubtedly make the best cars!
Howard goes on to say he was drawn by the “cinematic opportunities” and the “fantastic characters” offered by the story. His outlooks were remarkably achieved. These ‘fantastic characters’ offered Howard the chance to explore deeper into psychological aspects, hence Lauda’s complexity and Hunts irate state of mind. Hunts “shagalicious” tendencies were actually toned down in the process of making the film said Howard; even though there were clear scenes of Hunt malevolently partaking in the act on a plane and in a hospital ward. I can’t help but wonder how voluptuous this man really was?
There were moments that I actually found myself actually frightened by this film (not the sex scenes – the race scenes). The atmosphere of the race scenes were incredibly vivid and intense; Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is spectacular, weaving his camera, what appears effortlessly, in and out of close-up action, putting us up alongside the wheels, under the steering and even inside the drivers helmet. This stunning cinematography, alongside astonishing sound design (that will relentlessly bombard your ears) and Hans Zimmer’s electrifying score would be transfixing enough to get even a snail recoiling on the edge of its seat. Never has watching Formula One been so exciting – I felt like I was actually smelling the petrol fumes coming off those Formula One cars of the late 70s, which are somehow made to look admirable under Mantle’s lens.
Although the film is packed with American talent – Ron Howard for a start – the film is technically a British independent film. Producer, Andrew Eaton, claims the film was independently financed outside of the studio system – half private investors and half pre-sales of which were sourced within the UK (the film was also shot in the UK). This is a great achievement for British cinema (if you can count it that when the director is American), but let it be known! Our industry is too subtle with our achievement and always has been. Eaton says himself that the “British lack faith in our history,” and claims our “richer culture” is a reason why British cinema is so often surpassed. Indeed this is the European way and has been ever since that night in Paris on December 28th 1895. The situation is elucidated perfectly in David Puttnam’s book ‘The Undeclared War’, but I digress…
Rush might just be the best movie out so far this year. It’s definitely a nice surprise and a breath of fresh air for mainstream contemporary cinema, or rather British cinema!
4 whopping stars for Rush.