It’s 1976 and in the world of auto racing, Formula 1 racing has captured the world’s attention and primarily due to the intense rivalry between two drivers; the British born James Hunt and the Austrian, Niki Lauda. Both men are opposite sides of a coin; Hunt, a handsome “bad boy” who fills his off-hours with pure physical pleasures and Lauda, a much slighter individual who’s highly disciplined and so filled of his own skills that it just makes him unlikable to the rest of the field. This rivalry builds to a head with the German Grand Prix leg of the season on the treacherous Nürburgring race track and this is the story that director Ron Howard tells us with his latest movie, Rush.
Howard is certainly no stranger to telling fact-based stories in his films and has done so in the past with movies like Apollo 13 (one of this writer’s all-time favorite movies), A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man and Frost/Nixon. Howard’s hallmark in each of these films are an amazing sense of detail getting his time and place down perfectly and usually with some pretty compelling performances. On it’s surface, Rush is certainly poised to take a place right next to some of these movies and while I think it certainly does do quite a bit right, it falls just a little short of being the same sort of compelling viewing that say Apollo 13 or Frost/Nixon is.
Taking a look over at IMDB and the readers reviews there, I’m definitely in the minority on this one, though this review is hardly going to be any sort of condemnation of the film. Looking at Howard’s other past historic films, there’s a certain rise over adversity in each of them that very much raises the bar for them to varying degrees and I just don’t think that’s the case with Rush with it’s competitiveness between two men of privilege. Now it’s certainly interesting to see how both fueled each other in their drive to the Formula 1 championship, but I don’t think it’s quite enough to make it as rich as some of Howard’s other past efforts. One thing that I would’ve enjoyed seeing a little more of here, that’s only touched upon slightly, would’ve been more of the passion for the sport from both Hunt and Lauda. There’s a cool little mention of Lauda actually walking the course before a race and a nice scene with Hunt practicing his technique before a big race as well as a good bit with Lauda during a race that slows the action down and shows him figuring out his approach. I would’ve loved to have seen more scenes like this that just show the sheer passion for the sport, even if it would involve a few more visual effects on the racing end to pull them off just right. Now again, I think what Howard does here with the race scenes is pretty darn cool (the late John Frankenheimer would be proud) but I wouldn’t have minded a few more tricks along the lines of what say Renny Harlin did in Driven but maybe not quite so over-the-top.
Still, even with my own issues with the film, Rush looks terrific and really shines with it’s race re-creations (making me wish there was even more of that in the film). Veteran composer Hans Zimmer certainly shines here as well with a terrific score that really soars.
Chris Hemsworth (best known for his work as Marvel’s Thor character) and Daniel Brühl (Frederick Zoller from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) play both Hunt and Lauda respectively and both are well cast in the parts. Hemsworth’s Hunt is a certainly charming and charismatic character, but I tend to give more points to Brühl’s Lauda for having the meatier and much more interesting part. Brühl’s Lauda shows real progression here especially with some of the film’s climactic scenes. Hemsworth is s a little more one-note, though I was particularly impressed with him during a scene after a press conference with Lauda that shows off more of the respect that Hunt had for his rival. Both actors are very well cast and they play their parts just fine, though they won’t come off as particularly deep. That’s certainly nothing that’s out of the ordinary for racing movies, the same could be said for the leads in Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix and most certainly with Renny Harlin’s Driven, I was just hoping for a little bit more here.
Even though I have some issues with Rush it’s still some pretty quality entertainment. I tend to think that it’s drama comes off as a little more soap opera and thus not as compelling as some of Ron Howard’s other movies, but still it’s a highly watchable film and certainly one that fans of auto racing will embrace.