Ron Howard’s epic Formula One racing drama, ‘Rush’ is a commendable effort and an adrenaline-packed ride. Unfortunately, the film misfires on a few cylinders. From a marketing standpoint, you anticipate it to be primarily about playboy James Hunt (played with zeal by Chris Hemsworth). In actuality, it’s more about his Austrian archrival Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and his maniacal pursuit of staying on top as the number one driver on the circuit. Their bitter rivalry is done well by Howard but the main problem is that Lauda was such a cold and unlikable individual; it’s difficult to feel a great deal of compassion for him.
Without a doubt, Howard is a great director and a nice human being. Anyone who is still married to their high school sweetheart has to be a good guy in my book. You have to hand it to Howard in relentlessly pursuing this passion project similar to Lauda’s drive in the film. Major movie studios balked on the idea of a Formula One movie. Their reasons are well justified. Formula One is not as popular in the States as NASCAR. By the numbers, the statistics don’t lie. There are 500 million fans throughout the world that follow Formula One races compared to only 75 million fans in the United States who follow NASCAR races. Because of this, Howard had to seek funding like an independent filmmaker. ‘Rush’ is essentially an indie film for that very reason.
“The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel,” declares Hunt. It encapsulates his motivation why he races and how he lives his life. Hemsworth’s matinee-idol good looks will please female moviegoers. His shaggy blonde hair and smile embodies Hunt’s crazy jet-setting lifestyle off the track perfectly. Warning to parents, this is not a kid’s movie. It is rated R for Hunt’s hard partying ways with the ladies. The sex scenes are brief and not gratuitous. Thankfully, Howard avoids any drug use scenes. The story is set in 1976. On the surface, Hunt is fearless on the racetrack. The reality is that before a race, he leans over and vomits. Hemsworth evokes the right balance of intensity and humor in his performance.
In contrast, Bruhl’s Lauda is cold and calculated. The two racers are complete opposites. Lauda pursues the sport like a scientist. The scene of his mechanics and him tweaking the design of the racecar says it all. He understood that shaving off a few seconds from his lap speed was crucial in taking the checkered flag. Howard is not afraid to show the gritty side of the sport. During a race, Lauda’s car crashes into a huge fireball. It leaves him struggling for his life. What keeps him going is seeing Hunt race on a television set in his hospital room closing in on his numbers. Formula One racing is based on a point system. Be forewarned, these scenes are painful to watch as a doctor sticks a metal rod down his throat to clear his lungs. It’s intense.
One area the film falters on is the relationship between Hunt and supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). The subplot is based on facts. Actor Richard Burton fell in love with Miller. He actually left Elizabeth Taylor and she left Hunt for Burton. Burton was so enamored by her that he paid a million dollars in attorney fees to speed up their divorce. Later in the press, Hunt thanked Burton for saving him so much money. This aspect of the drama is glossed over and Wilde’s presence is limited in the film. It’s unfortunate since Hunt’s life is more interesting than Lauda’s. However, the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle is brilliant. Mantle has worked on many films with Danny Boyle. He gives the scenes of the racetrack a gritty tone. You feel like you’re with the pitcrew when the engines rev up before a race.
The third act of the film is done with precision. The showdown between Hunt and Lauda on the rain soaked track of the Japanese Grand Prix is compelling. Overall, this is a solid effort by Howard but it is not a definitive film on Formula One Racing. I highly recommend a documentary titled, ‘Senna’ that is more thrilling and a masterpiece on Formula One Racing http://www.examiner.com/review/senna-movie-review. Check out the official 'Rush' trailer http://youtu.be/9ZJqxgR-5Xc.