Hidden Agenda - Ever wonder how a director gets chosen for a film? Yeah, sometimes it’s the other way around with the director choosing the film, but I ask this question based on my initial reaction to seeing Ron Howard’s name attached to the film “Rush.” Given his resume, it didn’t make sense, despite one of his first films’ being 1977’s “Grand Theft Auto.” But, maybe that was the point and why Howard did it, because after watching it, I couldn’t have wished for a better director behind the camera given how enjoyable this film was inside and out.
What was it about? Based on true events from the 1976 Formula One season, this one follows the rivalry between two of the sport’s top drivers, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). Having known each other since racing in the Formula Three against each other, Hunt and Lauda had sort of built up a competitive relationship, one that drove each of them every time they stepped into their cars. And the best part was, outside of their love for racing, they couldn’t have been more different. Hunt was your token “bad boy” driver who stayed out late most nights partying while Lauda was still at the track working and planning for the next race. Hunt would often vomit before each race while Lauda was cool and collect. And when one driver set up his car for a certain type of tire, the other would soon follow to ensure they always equal when the race started. So, it goes without saying when they reached the mid-point of the 76’ season, the two were fully engaged in the battle of their lives. But, when Lauda wrecked at the German Grand Prix and was sent to the hospital with 3rd degree burns, everything changing sending this already intense rivalry into another direction resulting in a conclusion for the ages.
Who was in it? Unless you are a fan “Thor” or “The Avengers,” this cast will look completely new and fresh; because outside of Chris Hemsworth, there really is no one that is familiar. But, don’t let that fool you, for this cast did a lot more than what I expected considering the type of film this appears to be on the surface. And it starts with Hemsworth, who despite the perception of just being a “face,” did much more proving his chops with drama. He was steady through all the highs and lows of his character James Hunt, who was said to have been on set to help Hemsworth with mannerisms,etc. After him it was Daniel Bruhl, who played the rival Niki Lauda. What a performance by a guy you probably have never seen, but will see again soon not only this fall, but in the future. Having to sit in the makeup chair for six to seven hours some days for the post-crash sequences, one could say Bruhl had to do a little more for his role. From where I sat though, it was worth it, for his performance after the crash within this story exceeded what he did prior. He won me over forcing me to monitor whatever he does next, which says a lot considering I had no clue who he was before watching this film. As for the rest of the cast, everyone fit in nicely, including both love interest’s to the drivers, Suzy played by Olivia Wilde and Marlene played by Alexandra Maria Lara. While not in the film as much, when present, they made their impact which is all you can ask from a supporting actor or actress. Especially Wilde, who really had less to work with opposite Hemsworth’s character, but was memorable each and every time she popped up.
A sexy direction – For a guy who has been working in Hollywood since he was five-years-old, there’s not much Ron Howard hasn’t seen, done or tried. He’s acted, produced and directed his way to the top, all the while finding a way to surprise you each and every time. And that continues with “Rush,” a film that on the surface looks nothing more than just a popcorn flick, but underneath is so much more. I should have known better given Howard’s pedigree, but I’m actually glad I didn’t given how much I enjoyed this film. It allowed me to see this for what it was, which was a sexy take on a famous story primarily known in Formula One circles outside the U.S. That story, adapted by Peter Morgan, was not only well written, but good enough to allow the cast to shine in their own way. That’s 2 for 2 for Morgan and Howard, who also collaborated for the widely acclaimed “Frost/Nixon” a few years ago. Throw in Hans Zimmer, who produced the soundtrack to this film and it is looking like an easy nomination come Oscar time. Plus, we got see Howard’s skills in an action flick again, which was fun to watch; especially during all the racing sequences and camera shots in and out of the Formula One cars.
Bottom Line - “Rush” is one of those films that people will want to go see, but probably won’t, opting for the loose comedy down the hall. That’s a mistake in my mind, as this film offers more during its 122 minutes than all the films combined over the past two months. That speaks volumes about the job Ron Howard actually did here, proving we can still be surprised at the movies.
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