When I first saw the trailer for this film over the summer, I thought it was a strange pairing…Ron Howard and race cars? I mean, this is the same guy who directed Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and The Da Vinci Code – none of which are even remotely related to the idea of racing. I was initially skeptical, but I withheld judgement, and I actually started to become excited for the film the closer it got to release. I’m by no means a fan of racing, but the trailers made it look to be more of a drama than anything, which intrigued me. After all, aren’t the best sports films less about sports and more about characters (i.e. Moneyball, The Sandlot, Rocky, etc.)? Thankfully, the trailers didn’t false advertise – Rush is definitely a drama, and an inspiring one at that.
Rush is based on the true story of the rivalry between Formula One drivers Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) in the 1970s. Both actors give compelling performances, and the contrast between the two of them and what pushes them to do their best is fantastic. Lauda’s “drive,” if you will, is love for his wife and for the sport itself, whereas Hunt’s drive is the thirst for fame and recognition. Lauda has an abrasive personality, and Hunt is well-liked, but despite these character differences it’s hard to not root for both drivers throughout the film; it’s almost as if you would have been disappointed by the outcome no matter who had won. It’s the conviction that Brühl and Hemsworth bring the roles that make both characters so lovable in their own way. I should also mention that at no point in the film did I think to myself, “wow, Thor looks so weird driving a race car!” So that’s a plus for Hemsworth.
The emotional stakes of the film are also high; the car crash that nearly takes Lauda’s life is painful to watch, and Lauda’s subsequent difficult recovery is heart-wrenching, especially as we watch him try to put on his racing helmet for the first time after the crash. Olivia Wilde briefly appears in the film as Hunt’s wife Suzy Miller, but she literally has two and a half scenes before her character is finished onscreen, which is a shame because it seems like a waste of talent. Alexandra Maria Lara as Lauda’s wife Marlene Knaus is a new face for me, but not an unwelcome one – her sweet disposition and pretty smile provide a nice contrast to Lauda’s considerably less attractive physique, which makes the pair’s relationship all the more endearing.
The racing as seen in the film never bored me or made me uninterested, which is a testament to the actors’ abilities to draw me in and make a subject that I’m not interested in engrossing. The color scheme of both the race cars as they flash by and of the film as a whole is vibrant and exciting, especially when paired with composer Hans Zimmer’s equally exciting score. Zimmer’s music is an incredible asset to the film, combining the action of the racing with the drama of the characters; the main theme is adapted throughout the film to alternately “drive” forward (sorry, couldn’t resist making the joke again…) or to sit back and bring a little more weight to the scene at hand. I think I say it with the release of every new Zimmer score, but he is definitely improving with age.
I certainly have my complaints, however. For starters, the film’s biggest issue is that it often seems like it is trying to be overly profound, as if the screenwriter sat in front of his computer thinking to himself, “hmmm, what can I say in this scene that is really deep and intellectual-sounding?” As a result, many lines seem forced, with the best example I can think of being one heard in many of the film’s trailers, said by Hemsworth’s character: “Don’t go to men who are willing to kill themselves driving in circles looking for normality.” Perhaps it’s just the way that Hemsworth says the line, but it just seems completely unnecessary. My other complaint is with the ending, though I’m quickly changing my mind about it. In my initial opinion, it was too anti-climactic, which is a problem often associated with real-life films, especially after such incredible climaxes as the final race. However, what I love about the ending is that it truly highlights the contrast between the two leads. Lauda has matured quite a bit in his journey, but Hunt is still the same person he always has been, a difference that shows the contrast between the drivers’ motivations. So the ending isn’t awful, and the fact that it ends on a quiet note closes out the dramatic nature of the film nicely.
Anyway, I really liked this movie. It’s absorbing all the way through, and the performances of the two leads, especially Brühl, are wonderful. It’s not a perfect film, but it is an enjoyable one that is also brilliantly inspiring. Even if you’re not a racing fan, Rush is worth checking out.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: R – for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use