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Rush – Movie Review

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Rush – Movie Review

Rating: A (Fantastic)

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The careful construction of a sports film is one where the game or competition does not overwhelm or get in the way of the characters. Certainly for the fast-paced (albeit somewhat repetitive) world of motor car racing, it is easy for the director to focus most of his attention on the vehicles speeding through the track. Ron Howard is an intelligent filmmaker who realises the true spell and fascination of Formula 1 are the people behind the wheel. Especially in the 1970s, where Rush takes its inspiration from, this was a deadly sport where any moment turning the corner could be that driver’s last. The result is an amazing character study of two individuals constantly at odds, all for the art of winning.

Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan focus primarily on James Hunt and Niki Lauda, so different in personalities and yet with the same drive to win the coveted Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship. Some of the best elements to be found in Rush are how they face off outside of the races. Neither one is portrayed in the most positive light, as the filmmakers focus more-so on their flaws, yet still manage to make them likeable and fully dimensional. Sports movies usually focus on the good athlete versus the bad athlete, but Howard does not pick sides in Rush and this results in the leads having more dynamic screen personalities. James Hunt is a binge-drinking, devil-may-care driver who wants to drive as fast as humanly possible, consequences be damned. Niki Lauda is a more technical driver, focusing on statistics and the car’s build. In a way, both have strong strategies in winning their races, yet their approaches also lead to suffering.

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl have to carry the film with their characters constantly going toe to toe, but without delivering a single punch. All of their fights are done verbally through Morgan’s script and their performances are very believable, resulting in the natural shift in respect between them. Bruhl, in particular, has to play Lauda as somebody very full of himself with his techniques, even if he claims Hunt’s victories are because of his own performance or lack there-of. Watching these two, it is understandable why winning the Championship is so important to any Formula 1 driver — it is not simply an ego stroke, but the proof of their performance as motorists.

In Hunt’s eyes, it is because he is the fastest. In Lauda’s eyes, it is due to him being the most intelligent. Rush also succeeds in giving a glimpse into why these drivers were crazy enough to enter what Hunt describes as a coffin and “bomb on wheels.” Until 1994, when Ayrton Senna’s fatal crash led to finally making the cars safer, there was an average of one death a year in Formula 1. You feel that possible danger whenever Lauda and Hunt enter their cars or when a driver has an accident on the circuit.

In mounting the races, Ron Howard does a superb job of upping the intensity and excitement. Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography gets up close, capturing all of the thrills, certainly more than one tends to find in a typical Formula 1 television broadcast. Capturing Hunt and Lauda’s faces, the dangers of the track and even the vehicles’ interiors, the race sequences in Rush are some of the most well directed in Howard’s filmography. Credit should also be given to his usual editors Mike Hill and Daniel Hanley for how they piece the scenes together, the best work of their career.

Howard also does not shy away from showing the bloody aftermath of the crashes with Lauda’s infamous fiery accident on the German circuit being shown front-and-center and his hospital scenes being particularly hard to stomach. Adding further to the excellence on screen is Hans Zimmer’s riveting score. He heightens and speeds up the tempo for the racing and Grand Prix montages, while going appropriately quiet in the more character-driven moments. In the end, it is the development between Hunt and Lauda that adds to the strength in the racing, rather than the speeding automobiles overwhelming the whole film.

Ron Howard seems to be at his best, when crafting true stories like the Apollo 13 mission or the biography of a schizophrenic mathematician. With Rush, he has crafted a film that even people who know next to nothing about racing will enjoy as much as hardcore Formula 1 fans. While the racing sequences are amazing, it is the interactions between James Hunt and Niki Lauda and the filmmakers’ braveness in putting their flawed personalities front-and-center that makes this an invigorating motion picture. This also makes Rush the perfect companion piece to Asif Kapadia’s fantastic documentary Senna and those two will certainly be shown together on a double feature one day. I think this is Ron Howard’s best film yet, showing his capabilities as a director who can show both the human and the spectacular, when appropriate.

Review By: Stefan Ellison


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