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Rush (2013)

Rush

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 13A 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. MoneyballThe SandlotRocky, 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.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use

 

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Gangster Squad (2013)

I was fortunate enough to see an early screening of this film the other day. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know what it was about (aside from what I assumed was a squad of gangsters), and I didn’t know what the critics were saying about it. I only knew who was in it and that I got to see it for free, which was good enough for me. Thankfully, Gangster Squad was quite a fun film.

The story takes placte in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and everything about it feels authentic, from the clothes to the music to the lack of today’s advanced technology – the last of these being pretty important since this film features some elements of espionage. From the very beginning of the film – as in the first two minutes – we are shown that this is going to be a pretty violent film, which makes sense since we’re dealing with gangsters. The title is derived from a special team of cops, led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), whose goal is to take down the gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a former boxer and now the head of organized crime in LA.

In the assembling of the so-called “Gangster Squad,” we’re treated to what I consider to be an Avengers-esque montage in which we’re introduced to each member and their specific talents one by one. There was another scene later that seemed to be a cross between the fight montage from Captain America: The First Avenger and the newspaper headlines sequences from various other films (i.e. Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, etc.). That’s not to say that they weren’t well-done or original – just familiar.

There are two standout performances in this film. The first comes from Josh Brolin as “Sarge” (as he’s called in the movie); I’d only seen him before in The Goonies and in the 2010 remake of True Grit, so seeing him in the lead role here was a nice, real introduction to him as an actor. His character exuded a strong confidence that fit his position as leader, and his desire to do the right thing no matter what was palpable. Ryan Gosling was even better than Brolin; I’d never seen him in anything before and only knew that he had been in The Notebook, so I didn’t anticipate him being anything special, but I was amazed to see that he was not only competent but also quite good. His character is Sgt. Jerry Wooters, a man who is at first reluctant to join the Gangster Squad, but his fraternization with Cohen’s girlfriend (Emma Stone) and the death of a friend at the hand of some of Cohen’s men convince him to join the fight. Gosling’s character brings some humanity to the field; he’s passionate for both his friends and his girl, and he holds the lives of these people at a higher priority level than he does the arrest of Mickey Cohen. He makes sure to keep Sarge in check so that he’s keeping his own life a priority.

*major spoilers in this paragraph*

My favorite part of this film was that the filmmakers weren’t afraid to let members of the Gangster Squad die; in fact, two of them do. They don’t have a miraculous recovery, but their deaths do not feel superficial…it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers killed them just to kill them. Sometimes, it seems like characters are killed just for the sake of killing them, and other times it seems like characters that should die due to injury are granted ridiculous reprieves. Thankfully, this film is smarter than that.

*end spoilers*

Overall, Gangster Squad may be violent and have some bad language, but that’s expected from a film like this. It’s a lot of fun, the actors do a great job, Jablonsky’s score is (surprisingly) superb, and the film itself feels neither too long nor too short; at just under two hours, it’s a perfect length for a film like this. The storytelling is pushed along by the action, but it isn’t mindless at all, and, in fact, most of it is quite entertaining. Everything is done really well, from the 1940s setting to the acting by everyone involved – Brolin, Gosling, Penn, Stone, et al. – does a fantastic job in a film that does a fine job of kick-starting this year’s movie lineup.

EDIT

Upon mulling over it a while longer, I’ve lowered my original rating by a star. Enjoyable, but not fantastic. Suffers from poor storytelling, flat character development, awful dialogue, and a few instances of just bad cinematography. I stand by my evaluation of Gosling especially, who was brilliant, but everyone else, including Brolin to a point, falls short.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for strong violence and language