Release Date: September 27, 2013
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Peter Morgan
Stars: Daniel Brühl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde
MPAA Rating: R
As accomplished a director as he is, I’m not sure Ron Howard is the first name that would come to mind if you were looking for someone to make a film about two rival Formula One racers in a fierce and dangerous competition to be the best in the world. But Howard, for the most part, turns out to be the right man for the job in Rush.
The film, which is based on a true story, tells the story of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), two drivers who competed against each other in the 1970s, forming a rivalry that pushed them to compete for the top spot in Formula One. While on the one hand, this is a good thing, it also puts both men in grave danger since, as the film explains, several Formula One drivers lose their lives each year due to fatal crashes.
Even if you are unfamiliar with the historical account of what happens to these two men, the film makes it clear from the very beginning that danger is looming over their heads as they compete to be the best. The two leads both take turns providing voice over narration for the film and Lauda ominously teases that, in addition to his rivalry with Hunt, the thing he will become most well-known for is an incident that happens during the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.
The two men serve as perfect foils for each other. Hunt is a charismatic pretty boy speed junkie who likes the spoils that come along with being a race car driver. He’s naturally gifted and coasts by on that gift without putting in too much work on honing his skills (because it would get in the way of the partying and womanizing).
Lauda, on the other hand, is a calculating and hard working driver who sees Formula One just as a job he happens to be good at. He isn’t blessed with good looks and his blunt personality tends to rub people the wrong way. He understands cars and knows to streamline one to get the fastest top speed out of it, which is how he opens a door for himself into Formula One. But he isn’t an adrenaline junkie by any means. In fact, we see in one great scene that when he’s off the track, he drives maddeningly slow, much to the chagrin of his gorgeous female passenger.
Both Hemsworth and Brühl are fantastic in the lead roles. Obviously, Hemsworth can play the charming and slightly reckless pretty boy in his sleep and Brühl does a good job of making Lauda, who is a somewhat polarizing character, feel like a complete person. And, as footage at the end of the film reveals, they actually look considerably like the two men they are playing.
The supporting cast is solid as well, particularly the two love interests. Olivia Wilde is charming as Suzy Miller, the model who does her best to get Hunt to settle down. And Alexandra Maria Lara is great as Marlene, the woman who finds herself unexpectedly drawn to the standoffish and average looking Lauda.
There are only two things about the film that I didn’t enjoy. Both were missteps made by Howard.
The first is the aesthetic choice he made to give the film look like it was shot in the 1970s. There is a grainy, 70s-esque tint to the cinematography that I imagine Howard thought would help immerse viewers in the time period, but instead had the opposite effect on me as I found it so distracting that it drew me out of the film. To me it felt like he put a bad Instagram filter on the whole thing.
The other major issue I had with the film were the racing scenes themselves. Rush is a character-driven story, which is fine. I love it for that reason. But even if it isn’t an action-centric film, it still needs to deliver on the racing sequences, since they are obviously central to the plot. Howard does a really poor job staging these sequences. The footage itself is normally underwhelming, the editing is choppy and at times I found it hard to keep track of what exactly was happening.
It’s a major problem in a film about Formula One racing, though luckily the rest of the film is compelling enough to overcome the shortcomings in the racing scenes. And obviously, if you are going in looking for an adrenaline-pumping movie where Hemsworth drives fast cars, you are going to be very disappointed.
While the cinematography and the racing scenes bothered me, I still greatly enjoyed the film as a whole. It was a story I knew absolutely nothing about. It’s incredibly compelling and the chemistry the two leads have as bitter rivals with a tremendous amount of respect for each other is a joy to watch on-screen.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.