DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: Peter Morgan • PRO: Andrew Eaton, Eric Fellner, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Peter Morgan, Brian Oliver • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Daniel P. Hanley • DES: Mark Digby • Cast: Natalie Dormer, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, Daniel Brühl
It’s a fact that some of the larger movie studios often copyright potential, marketable film titles long before the films themselves have ever been made. Given the slightly tenuous link between subject matter and title here, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Rush might be just such a title: Generic, ambiguous, and completely belying the exhilarating true story it presents to its audience.
Set neither in north county Dublin, nor focusing on the world’s biggest prog-rock band, Rush traces the rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s, from the humble beginnings of each in Formula Three, to their divergent paths to the big-time, climaxing at one hugely significant race which can be seen to define each man.
The structure of this film is somewhat disordered, jumping forward to Nurburgring 1976 before returning to a seemingly arbitrary point in 1970 and then vomiting expositional information as readily as James Hunt vomits before a race, an abject spectacle we bear witness to several times in Rush. Although this set-up is a necessary to build audience investment in the 1976 season – the central focus of the film – it is somewhat weakly done.
This is Ron Howard’s second collaboration with screenwriter Peter Morgan, the last being the excellent Frost/Nixon, focusing on the heavily-hyped interview between Sir David Frost and Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Unlike Frost/Nixon however, where the lack of egalitarianism between a British light-entertainment presenter and the President of the United States is never ambiguous, Rush is slightly unbalanced in portraying rivals Hunt and Lauda, who may be equally skilled as drivers, just with different priorities in other areas of life.
Chris Hemsworth’s Aryan swagger has been heavily utilised to promote Rush, but James Hunt is rather underdeveloped as a character and remains something of a one-note playboy throughout the film. While Hemsworth undoubtedly plays the mouthy ladies’ man angle quite well, the fact remains that Hunt’s arc is practically a ninety degree angle. Similarly, Hemsworth shows his limits when some of Hunt’s more sincere moments come off a little wooden.
It’s convenient and understandable to pitch the film as comparable to Frost/Nixon, making it about the rivalry between the two men. But Rush really feels like the story of Niki Lauda – and Daniel Brühl is astonishing in the role. Best-known outside of his native Germany for his role as Nazi poster-boy Fredrick Zoller in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Rush should by all rights make Brühl’s name in Hollywood. Lauda initially appears as a foil to Hunt: Unlikable and anti-social, the man nicknamed ‘The Rat’ gets a loan to buy his way into the higher divisions, while Hunt is shown eschewing sponsors, just getting by with a little help from his friends, drinking, partying and wooing beautiful women. Yet, as each man races towards a comeback at the final race of the season, in very different circumstances, Brühl impressively shapes the acerbic Lauda into a more compelling character than his glamorous British counterpart.
While narratively, Rush suffers from uneven characterisation and expositional scenes, it is technically very well-made. Expertly shot and mixed, the eardrum-searing screech of tyres and palpable shudder from a passing racecar make the F1 races portrayed in the film immersive and engaging. Similarly, the aesthetic of this period really is Howard’s forte. The film looks beautiful throughout, with every detail, from the cars, costumes and clubs to the lighting and filters effortlessly evoking the 1970s.
Rush, ultimately, feels much like a F1 race itself; It starts slowly, with no individual element immediately emerging as a lead to focus on, and while it swerves dangerously off-track once or twice, it gathers speed in its second act and ultimately builds to a nail-biting conclusion. It might not win a World Championship title, but it could definitely take the Grand Prix, especially with its central, star-making turn from Daniel Brühl.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Rush is released on 13th September 2013