By Gary Murray
Starring Daniel Bruhl, Chris Hemsworth and Olivia Wilde
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Ron Howard
Running time 123 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
I have never been a fan of racing. To me, a bunch of guys flying around a track is the most boring spectacle ever invented. For some, this sporting entertainment is a go-to event with days of travel and giant celebrations. To each his own I say.
Every few years, we get a racing movie that tries to capture the raw energy of being on the track. Days of Thunder, Talladega Nights and Fast and Furious are some different examples of this type of film. Even Elvis and Burt Reynolds played race drivers on the silver screen.
Ron Howard is a director of Frost/Nixon, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man and Apollo 13 to name just a few of his features. The man has established himself as an everyman director. He can do every genre from Western to comedy but he has never really tackled a sports story. Way back he did some racing shots in Grand Theft Auto but not much since 1977.
Based on true events Rush is about two racers, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). The film starts in the 1970s in lower formula racing. James is the typical playboy racer that the sport is known to generate. He lives for the thrill of challenging death. Women throw themselves at James and he tries to catch each and every one.
His competition is Niki, an Austrian who is focused to a scary degree. He buys his way into Formula 1 Racing, something that bothers Hunt who makes it by skills and daring. The two are fierce competitors who battle in race after race. Where James will take risk after risk, Niki is cool and collected.
The big event of the film happens almost too late in the flick. At the German Grand Prix, there is a terrible crash and Niki is severely hurt. He burns his face and lungs, almost losing his life. As Niki sits in the hospital, James begins to catch up in points. This forces Niki to push his body to get up and out of the hospital. Wounded, he still races. The entire film builds to the Japanese Grand Prix, a competition in the pouring rain.
The film is a case study of two very different individuals who are pushed together by competition. They are ying and yang on a track. At one time, the two drive a pure white and a pure red car, symbolic of their relationship.
But, there are also the aspects of their extended families. James eventually becomes married to Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) a high fashion model. They have a volatile relationship which matches his style of driving. Niki has problems with his rich family and eventually marries.
Both men want to be champions, but come at in with very different manners. It is the drive to compete against all logic that pushes Rush to the end. Rush is about the fierce pressure these two men have to be the best and to look death in the eye.
The best single aspect of this film is the racing. Director Ron Howard knows how to shoot an action scene. The cars roaring around the track at break-neck speeds are moments that take the breath away. He captures the sport in a way no one has ever seen before in the cinema.
The rest of the story is the problem. The basic idea of the screenplay is the wreck and recovery of Niki. His struggle to get back on the track is the motivation of the work and it takes too long to get there and starts too late in the program. It would have been a more interesting film if they would have focused on the recovery of Niki while James begins to overtake him. All the scenes before that event are filler. Simply put, it takes a long time to get to the interesting part.
But, the biggest problem with Rush is Chris Hemsworth. His has the acting ability of a wet paper bag. Yes he looks the part but he makes racing and half-naked women boring. One wonders what all these women see in such a dull individual. Olivia Wilde is in the film just to look good, which she does in spades. There is very little in her role and she brings very little to the reading.
Much more interesting is Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda. This is a case study in obsession. He is a guy who wants more than anything to be the best in the world. He is not the reckless daredevil but the skilled athlete. Very early on, he shows his intelligence with the mechanics and designers of the Formula 1 team, making his car lighter and faster. At every moment, he is working on making himself that much better.
Way back in 1966 there was a film called Grand Prix. It was about Formula One racing and starred James Garner. The big push was that it was in Cinerama, a wrap-around screen that was super wide. The film was too long, but the racing was breathtaking. In 1971, Steve McQueen made La Mans. It was light on plot but gripping with the track scenes. Rush does not measure up to either of those film with plot. It does deliver with some of the action. To be honest, if I want to watch a racing flick, I’d rather watch Talladega Nights or Speedway.