I’ve never much liked racing. NASCAR, Formula 1, horses – vehicles going around a track at high rates of speed competing to be the first across the finish line never seemed compelling. Sooner or later, I did catch onto the one main reason why most people watched it. They wanted to see a crash. Anything with the added possibility of death piques the curiosity of the general public. Why do we like to watch boxing or MMA fighting? It’s an obsession with death and an almost reverent respect for the people that play with death like they have nothing to lose. It wasn’t until I saw Ron Howard’s Rush that I completely understood why it’s done, as well as began to understand the types of people that do it.
Rush is a remarkable story about a rivalry between two Formula 1 racers which plays out over the better part of the 1970’s. It is the rarest of character studies, one with two men where neither is the hero nor the villain. The balancing act here is absolutely splendid, letting each character have his say and – the real masterstroke – having both characters’ perspectives make sense. There’s a recurring theme with fire and water in the movie, which I think perfectly encapsulates its story. Two polar opposites that sometimes go hand in hand. We need fire for warmth, much like we need water to live. But fire can burn you, and you can drown in water. You either need to learn to swim, or learn to get burned so that you can’t feel the pain.
James Hunt has nothing to lose. Played by Chris Hemsworth as a gorgeous British man/god, not much removed from Thor in terms of playing up his looks but completely removed in terms of character, Hunt is a partier, womanizer and overall debaucher. His family is full of well-to-dos and he wants nothing to do with them. He continues to chase whatever elevates his heart rate, whatever makes him feel something more than base-level living, while still keeping true happiness at bay. For only one thing will make him truly happy: to be champion of the world and beat Niki. He exudes a confidence and swagger to reporters, opponents, and friends, all the while hinting at something just under the hood that nags at him and makes him incomplete. Hemsworth plays the subtle nuances of Hunt beautifully. This is not just a pretty boy role, nor is Hemsworth just a pretty boy actor.
Niki Lauda is not handsome, charismatic, or charming – but he is confident. Like Hunt, Lauda is supremely confident in his abilities, but he has an entirely different skill set. Rather than count on impulse and raw talent, Lauda has technical know how. He rebuilds his racecar to be lighter and faster, and calculates the inherent risk of each track down to the strict percentage. Daniel Bruhl, whom you might recognize from Inglorious Basterds, plays Lauda and this is a knockout breakout role from him. Donning false buckteeth to enhance his rattish appearance, Bruhl is not the one you immediately sympathize with, with his off kilter appearance and his confidence bordering/spilling over into sheer arrogance, but as the story unfolds, the characters go through some remarkable tribulations and first impressions are given another look.
Apart from the two leads, the other main character is the racing sequences. The film does a great job at sort of glancing over races that weren’t as important, while making full action setpieces out of the really key races between the two drivers. With a great mix of CGI, practical racing and editing, Howard really stretches his legs here, and for the first time in a while too. I can’t ever remember him shooting a film this exciting, at least in the last decade or so. It goes to show that vital, interesting material can prompt a director to do his very best. There’s a metaphor in here somewhere relating the director’s mentality to his subject matter but I’m not apt enough to find it.
Go see this movie. If only for (ladies) Chris Hemsworth shirtless a lot, and (guys) for awesome races, crashes, some intense scenes and Olivia Wilde.
Go in blind. This story really is unbelievable, as I kept looking over at my friend and going “This is a true story?!” It’ll really take you for a spin. Peter Morgan’s writing is just great. His two main characters are so finely nuanced, neither being the hero nor the villain – just the yin to the other’s yang. And it’s funny; Bruhl in particular gets some really good insults, including some great readings of the word ‘asshole’, and Hemsworth proves that his awesome comedic timing with Whedon’s material in Avengers wasn’t just a flash in the pan. The directing from Ron Howard is superb. I haven’t been this impressed with an ‘Opie’ movie since at least A Beautiful Mind. The races are shot with a furious intensity, and DoP Anthony Dod Mantle of 127 Hours fame uses different filters and a bunch of zooms to project a wonderful 70’s aesthetic over the entire thing. It’s perfectly paced – the movie is a little over 2 hours but doesn’t feel nearly that long. The supporting cast all does excellent work across the board – special mention to Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara as James and Niki’s love interests. The way the characters treat and react to their significant others plays a big part in the movie. At the end, they cross cut with real footage of the two racers and you can see how spot on they were in casting.
Rush marks the return of Ron Howard as a major filmmaking voice, the emergence of both Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl as two bonafide stars, and it marks the beginning of what should be an amazing Fall season for movies. With Gravity, The Counselor, 12 Years a Slave, and more right around the corner, let it be known that Rush kicked off the awards season with a bang…and a crash or two.
Take a sip:
– Daniel Bruhl calls someone an asshole.
– You find yourself starting at his rat teeth.
– Chris Hemsworth’s charm takes your breath away.
– You go an entire race sequence without breathing.
– Hemsworth bangs another one.
Take a Shot When: Lauda/Hunt do something nice for the other.