A re-creation of the merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
Year 2, Film #31
THE REVIEW: Sometimes, high expectations are not met (like with Don Jon) and other times, they’re not just met but they’re exceeded. Rush is one of those times. After seeing the trailer and Ron Howard’s name attached as the director, my interest in the film was sufficiently piqued. Going in, I had a feeling the film would be more about the rivalry than the driving and who Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) are. And while that’s exactly true, I wasn’t expecting just how powerful and impactful the film was. There were a few places where it toed the line between being inspirational and being preachy, or between being focused and rambling on, but Rush navigates the course that’s laid out like trying to navigate a racetrack in the pouring rain: something that takes a lot of skill and where one minor mistake can mean your life.
The best choice made by the filmmakers was the decision to focus on the drivers rather than the driving. Contrary to what Hunt’s early manager says, not all men are infatuated with cars. Sure, some men love cars more than life itself, but some men just view them as a machine. A very good-looking piece of machinery, but not something to worship. And in Rush there’s two things that happen from shifting the focus away from the driving: (1) it makes the story more relatable; and (2) it makes the driving even more exhilarating.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never broke 80mph on a car let alone 220mph so trying to make me relate to what it’s like to be in those cars is impossible. However, having an enemy, or rather a rival, is something many people can relate with. The difference between rivalries and being enemies is rivals challenge the other and each have their own faults. James Hunt is a womanizing daredevil who will do whatever it takes to win the world championship. Niki Lauda can get so engrossed in his work or swept up by emotion that he fails to listen to reason. But Hunt can be compassionate and stand up for what’s right just as Lauda has a good set of values and a strong work ethic that lets him both live and love. And the two drive each other. Without Lauda, Hunt wouldn’t have that fierce competitor forcing him to drive just a little bit better. And without Hunt, Lauda would probably rest on his laurels taking comfort in the fact that he’s the best driver out there. Seeing this rivalry, especially with the performances of Brühl and Hemsworth, is much more powerful and gripping than a simple story of good vs. evil would be. It provides color, it provides depth. And above all it provides a sense of naturalness.
I also said that this focus on characters rather than action actually made the action more exhilarating. Yes, there was actually quite a bit of racing — much more than depicted in the trailers — but the parts that were shown were only the most intense. First of all, Formula One racing is much more exciting than NASCAR which is something I was unaware of. It’s not just driving around in circles (sorry, ellipses); there’s a lot more skill and a whole lot more risk involved. Rush puts the camera right in the car, literally. You see the pistons in the V12 engine pumping, the clutch shifting gears, and the very visceral feeling of driving without an enclosed compartment. This racing isn’t a joke; people die every year. And Rush captures that fear and danger, but also that heart-pumping adrenaline rush which is what the drivers race for.
Now there were some moments in the film that were a bit iffy in terms of providing a whole experience. Those moments are: the female characters and the ending. The two leading ladies are Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), wife of James Hunt, and Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara) who is the wife of Lauda. There are times in the film where both women feeling like afterthoughts. It’s the Hunt and Lauda show and the wives are just along for the ride — to look pretty and be supportive of their husbands. Then Hunt and Miller get divorced which makes Miller’s involvement even more suspect. Obviously the two women are important to the story but it’s just a matter of whether or not they’re given enough of the spotlight. Ultimately I think this is handled well as both women impact the ending of the film. During the film they may seem to be minor characters but the impact they have at the end is quite major.
Speaking of the ending, this is another area where the film could have gone horribly wrong. There comes a certain point where dialogue between two characters, or even one character’s monologue, goes from being inspirational to preachy. A film like Good Will Hunting or The Return of the King comes to mind for the inspirational kind. The words seem magical and give the film a final push towards emotional response. But it can also turn preachy, whereby the words feel scripted and lose all meaning. The final conversation between Hunt and Lauda started off a bit questionable; I was worried this great film would be ruined by these two characters pointing out the lessons learned like an episode of any kids program on PBS. But Rush again steers away from this disaster and instead turns it into something memorable. It isn’t a “here’s what we learned” recap; it’s a look at the gravity of everything you just saw. Rush is based on a true story and at times it may not feel like that. But the ending wonderfully conveys that simple fact and instantly makes you go back in your mind as to the implications of everything that happened in the last two hours.
Rush may appear to be an action film or an oft told tale of a long-standing rivalry between two men, but this film is much more than that. It’s entertaining, enlightening, and inspiring for it’s wonderful combination of all part of storytelling. And it gracefully navigates away from the very few issues that arise to create an all-around fantastic film. It wouldn’t surprise me if Rush is in the running for this year’s major awards. Brühl and Hemsworth gave commendable performances but weren’t so extraordinary I would easily name them as nominees. But as for the picture itself and some of the more technical awards like cinematography, editing, sound design and mixing, and especially best original score, I think Rush will definitely be receiving a few nods.
Rush opens in limited release on September 20, 2013 and expands to a wide release on September 27, 2013.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5