Racing Rivals Go Head To Head In Howard's Solid 'Rush'
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 29, 2013 19:09
Ron Howard’s Rush provides audiences with a surprisingly dynamic film that involves just as much character study as it does thrilling races. The story focuses on the intense rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) centered around the 1976 Formula One Grand Prix. The film, based on a true story, uses a documentary-style format to depict the drama of these racers in their mission for supremacy in the racing world.
Both Hemsworth and Bruhl are well-cast and offer excellent performances. Hemsworth is well-suited as the charming, Dionysian daredevil Hunt while Bruhl does a convincing job portraying the methodical, cautious, and mildly misanthropic Lauda. The credits even provide documentary shots of the actual James Hunt and Nikki Lauda—the resemblance between them and the actors is striking. The film is rooted in an epic clash of egos and personalities. Despite Hemsworth dominating the cover poster for the film, Howard successfully balances these highly contrasting characters. James Hunt may be the more likeable and entertaining character, but Lauda gradually becomes a more inspiring character, providing the emotional core of Rush.
The strength of this odd couple, however, resides much more in their juxtaposition than their individual stories. The personal lives of these two racers, especially when examining their marriages, are notably underwhelming. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue had Howard not attempted to make these relationships emotionally impactful. For example, Hunt, at several points, is blatantly distraught over his failed marriage with supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). In the film, however, Hunt and Miller meet, talk for two minutes, tie the knot, and literally in their next scene have an argument that leads to divorce. In its defense, Rush is far from a romance, but sequences like this hardly have any believable emotional impact. Lauda’s marriage serves its purpose in its laughable juxtaposition, as evident in an extremely awkward and unromantic proposal, but itself is quite dull. This is problematic mainly because Lauda’s wife, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), plays a significant role in one of Lauda’s most momentous decisions in the entire film (further elaboration would involve spoilers). Consequently, Hunt and Lauda are entertaining characters, but not the most endearing or memorable. Fortunately their distinct personalities set the stage for an entertaining and effective script.
Howard’s technique, for the most part, makes for a very balanced film. Although Rush is not exactly a masterpiece, it is very well put together. It’s safe to say that the various elements inherent in this setting are present but tastefully subdued. While there are definitely some gripping race scenes, they aren’t the main appeal of Rush, as some audience members may have expected. This film is thankfully a story with some racing in it, not a racing film with some story in it. The sex and action of the film are executed concisely and expressively, rather than relying on shock value. In addition, Howard uses some excellent cinematography that renders the action scenes engaging and intense without becoming too confusing or nauseating to watch.
Unfortunately, Rush sporadically struggles with pacing and tonal issues. Some sequences seem unnecessary and underdeveloped. An obvious example is when Hunt loses sponsorship and can no longer race. In an extremely short amount of time Hunt goes from being on top of the world to binge-drinking (the depressed kind) on the couch and playing with a toy race car set like a child. Before you know it, Hunt is back on track. The idea is fine, but its execution is so abrupt it has almost no impact. The climactic final race, while set up nicely, indulges in an overly epic tone that shockingly contrasts with the rest of the film. The Hans Zimmer score complimenting this scene is a phenomenal piece but feels horribly out of place.
Rush is a good film, not without its share of issues, but a solid release nonetheless. In addition to its intriguing take on a legendary rivalry, it transmits a positive message about the nature of competitiveness. Howard emphasizes how rivalry, rather than being a slugging match of egos, can be a positive and inspiring force.