Directed by: Ron Howard
Premise: A dramatization of the rivalry between Formula One race car drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl)
What Works: Rush is the kind of film that appears on its surface to be very simple but a careful viewing reveals this to be a very smart and sophisticated story. The best sports movies transcend their subject and tell stories about the human element, such as team camaraderie and the will-to-power of the individual. Rush is a movie about the passion of competitors in a high risk sport and unlike a lot of similar movies it does not create simple binaries in which one team is good and the other is bad. Instead, the filmmakers of Rush focus on the rivalry and create characters who embody very different approaches to their profession. As depicted in the film, Niki Lauda and James Hunt are the Tortoise and Hare; although neither one of them moves slowly, Lauda is cautious, cold, and methodical while Hunt is a loose cannon who burns life at both ends. That clear definition between characters creates a tension in the rivalry that goes beyond the racetrack. Rush is very well cast, especially in its lead roles. Chris Hemsworth plays James Hunt and the actor’s humor, athletic presence, and general likability make him a fitting choice for the part. Niki Lauda is played by Daniel Brühl and Brühl is very good; of the two characters he is more interesting in part because the role is more complex but also because Lauda is so callous and yet the actor and the filmmakers find ways to humanize him. For that matter both Lauda and Hunt are characters who ought to be unlikable but the filmmakers of Rush take care to balance out their coarse qualities with human moments and demonstrate how their antisocial tendencies were key to their success. Hunt’s indomitable lust made him a force of nature on the track while Lauda’s obsessive attention to detail made him an expert of automobile mechanics. Rush was directed by Ron Howard and this is a much more mature project from this particular filmmaker. From Cocoon to Apollo 13 to How the Grinch Stole Christmas to The Da Vinci Code, Howard’s films vary widely in style and subject. Even among his R-rated films, Rush is distinct in its rawness. This film shows the director dealing with the seedier parts of celebrity and it also possesses a vibrant energy that befits the subject matter.
What Doesn’t: As in many sports movies (and indeed in most major sports) the women of Rush are little more than tokens of the male competitors. As depicted in the film, James Hunt was a lothario for whom women were part of the spoils of his racetrack victories. The way the film presents the women in his social circle is consistent with his character but the film does little to offer an alternative idea about women. Hunt’s debauched lifestyle contrasts with Lauda’s much more cautious attitude and especially his stable marriage. But even here the woman is cast as the dutiful spouse and little else. The other major storytelling flaw of Rush is its abrupt ending. The film focuses on the 1976 season, which makes sense since this was the peak of the drivers’ rivalry, but Rush only covers the aftermath of the race in narration that is juxtaposed with a flurry of images. This montage hints at an entirely new narrative that is compelling but is never really addressed. Tying off the film at this point is the smart storytelling decision but nevertheless it feels truncated.
Bottom Line: Rush is a very well made picture with terrific performances and a lot of energy. But despite how fast paced it is, Rush also manages to be a thoughtful consideration of the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda and of sporting competition in general.
Episode: #459 (October 6, 2013)