2013 - 123 minutes
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Peter Morgan
Starring:Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Alexandra Maria Lara, Olivia Wilde, Christian McKay, Pierfrancesco Favino
Though his film’s subjects are a pair a real life Formula One drivers who take the ultimate risk every time they dart around the track, Ron Howard’s Rush feels remarkably restrained. Men who get their kicks attempting to control a 170mph missile with little protection are ripe for dramatic pickings - look no further than Asif Kapadia’s fascinating 2010 documentary Senna chronicling F1 champ Ayrton Senna and his rivalry with Alain Prost. To be fair Howard’s not making a documentary, but his travelogue of the 1976 Formula One season in which James Hunt and Niki Lauda waged an epic battle for the title of World Champion is a journey stuck in cruise control.
In Rush the story of Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), a disreputable though affable Englishman, and Lauda (Daniel Brühl), a cold and calculating Austrian, picks up in the lower levels of the racing circuit. A forced post-race confrontation clearly outlines Hunt’s brashness and Lauda’s exactitude. Soon the polar opposites are battling in the big leagues, Hunt backed by British aristocrat Alexander Hesketh (Christian McKay), and Lauda buying his way onto an established team. Niki quickly uses his advanced knowledge of cars and dogged precision to become World Champion for powerful Ferrari in 1975, Hunt getting the backing of McLaren going into ’76.
Technically speaking, Rush is well-made with Howard handling the race sequences concisely and fairly representing the saturated sheen of 70s-era looks without overindulging. Using the dynamic personalities of Hunt and Lauda rather than scene after scene of thrilling checkered flag victory to drive the narrative gives a solid foundation, however during their critical run of vehicular sparring any interactions off the track are basically reduced to calling each other “assholes” in various ways. They’re both right, by the way. It’s a shame too because the few meaty scenes Hemsworth and Brühl share, especially near the end of the film, are high points. Showing them each as solitary men may be accurate, but drains interest in their competition.
Hemsworth and Brühl are both great in their roles; the former proving he can ooze bravura even without the hammer of a thunder god, the latter making us almost root for Lauda through an appreciation of his unwavering dedication to principle. Neither character fits neatly into the “good guy” or “bad guy” box - even Lauda’s fiery crash that leaves him permanently scarred isn’t used to sway emotions, presented as matter of fact rather than overly melodramatic. For the audience, not having a dog in the fight is unique, but adds to the detachment of the proceedings. Instead of feeling anything, we are simply watching the events unfold as they must. Close-ups of pistons firing and wide eyeballs under the racing helmets aren’t enough to give Rush the oomph it needs.
Characters orbiting the two focal points are just along for the ride as well. No real depth is given to any supporting characters, most noticeable with the respective love interests. As Hemsworth’s bride Suzy Miller, Olivia Wilde has a glorified cameo. She’s in and out of the story so quick that her emotional reaction to the climactic end of the 1976 racing season feels completely disingenuous and unnecessary. Lauda’s wife Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) is there to react with a blank stare to her husband’s coldness. They’re each there as a matter of record and nothing more.
Rush forces in some pizzazz in the form of a gruesome leg injury, the bare breasts of Hunt’s romantic conquests, and an abundance of colorful language to earn an R rating, but it mostly moves along the track with calculated speed. It’s perfectly passable but not exceptionally memorable.
© 2013 by Blake Crane