Star rating: 3 out of 4
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl
Directed by: Ron Howard
Running time: 123 minutes
Rush is going to win Oscars. It is a film that is easily being embraced and called great by critics without any sign of necessary inventiveness or boldness of vision for one to overlook its painstakingly obvious flaws — Howard (director) and Morgan (screenwriter) allow their film’s focus to exceed their grasp, biting off way more than their two-hour running time can chew.
Rush tackles too many of F1 racers Nicki Lauda and James Hunt’s personal and public fracas — their marriages, their emotions of family neglect, their dreams that inspired their rise to fame, and their famously documented rivalry — all the while investigating the identical psyche and angst of these two very different men as they quotidianly face great risks of mortality. With all of these conflicts in mind, it is easy for one to see how the pacing in Rush feels … well, a little rushed.
The film is all very enjoyable and the running time goes by faster than watching 10 laps of NASCAR, but the middle portion lost steam as the movie sidestepped my expectations (what the marketing promised it would do): give me testosterone-fueled, viscerally pleasing racing sequences. Instead, most of Howard’s running time is spent depicting underdeveloped relationships, notably Lauda and Hunt’s interactions with their wives. This is Howard’s means of contrasting the drivers’ mentalities and lifestyles. I’m all for this ingenious form of characterization, but by consequence every scene and situation in this act merely feels like a vignette. For example, as Lauda and Hunt climb the ladder of the Formula circuit, the racing sequences are reduced to bare montages with expositional text, despite these moments being crucial to the two men’s rise to greatness. For an informative biopic this approach gets the job done, but on an emotional level it’s not particularly involving.
Howard does eventually find his footing, though, in the final half hour (or so). As the “go, go, go” storytelling evaporated, I finally came to appreciate the risk and fear that these men experienced as the jumpy storytelling subsequently settled in with the final race of the 1970s Grand Prix — the result of this final leg determined the winner of the entire F1 season (either Lauda or Hunt will win). While recreating these moments, Howard’s style is unromantic, hyperrealistic and empathetic — his esthetic blends shots taken from a first-person perspective (that of the driver), a colour scheme that is excessively saturated (giving off the impression that the images were filtered through a bottle of motor oil) and sound design that is ear-piercingly deafening in capturing the combusting in the roaring engines. The overall effect of this pinnacle scene is utterly riveting.
Using some of that egotistical Thor resolve utilized in one of his previous roles, Chris Hemsworth nails his performance, looking and feeling the part of James Hunt: a narcissistic playboy who would be a bum if he couldn’t drive a car. But since he can his riches further his depravity — excessive drinking and sleeping around with more women than Tiger Woods could ever dream of.
Opposite to Hemsworth is Daniel Bruhl, an actor previously unknown to this reviewer but believe me, remember his name; Bruhl is going to become a star for a long time. His performance is a tour de force that offers a carefully calculated portrayal of Nicki Lauda — an ugly “rat” resembling a rich Formula One racer who found his spot in the circuit because of his knack for building cars and manipulating negotiations. His father wanted him to continue the thriving family business, but Lauda understood that his success lied in Formula One racing. If Nicki regarded himself as a talented businessman he would have taken the job. His thought process and personality is opposite to that of James Hunt: he’s logical, disciplined and responsible.
However polarized these men may be in nature, their psychological response before a race — the anticipation, the fear, the excitement — are uniform. Hunt, the personification of a “man’s man,” barfs before almost every race while Lauda’s typical charisma fades as he pulls his visor down.
At any other time in history these two men would have been dismissed as lunatics. The mere concept of sitting in “a little coffin … surrounded by high-octane fuel all around” flying at speeds (upwards) of 180 mph in “a bomb on wheels” would have been perceived as sheer idiocy. Lauda tells us numerous times over that there’s a 20-per-cent chance of death every time he buckles up.
Rush’s portrayal of the rivalry, differences and psyche of Nicki Lauda and James Hunt suffers from poor pacing and over-ambition, but eventually finds its way with two marvelous central performances from Hemsworth and Bruhl, and a sensational climax that delivers an adrenaline shot of realistic, behind-the-wheel-photographed F1 racing.
Joshua Cabrita is a Grade 12 student at Riverside Secondary. He is a founding member of the school's movie club, where students meet to view old classics and discuss their meaning and significance. One of his audacious dreams is to become a full-time professional film critic. Visit Josh on Facebook for any reviews you missed or film analysis video essays.
© Copyright 2013