Rush is an odd beast. On paper you’d expect some kind of mechanical, by the books ode to the motorsport with some human drama interspersed. In reality the human drama is on the absolute top of the podium with all the other knick-knack esoteric info all relegated to second fiddle. Rush is a grand love letter not to the motorsport but to the sportsmen. I wondered going into it whether the jargon and lingo would fly over my head but, in reality, a following of the sport isn’t necessary in seeing that this is one of the year’s best films.
Some of my family are keen petrolheads, with some of them coming along to see the film with me. I didn’t need to ask them whether or not it was authentic because just as I taking in this grand tale of human competition I was also been fed a history lesson that might’ve filled one of my family member’s anecdotes. Rush is a film that feels authentic, honest and knows all of its audiences at once. It’s really just a damn good… ride.
Director: Ron Howard
Release Date: September 13, 2013 (UK), September 27, 2013 (US)
Rating: 15 (UK), R (US)
There’s not much room for filler in Rush‘s story. It tells the tale of one of the more infamous Formula One rivalries in its history, that between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Against the backdrop of the 1976 Formula One season, both sportsmen vie for the top world accolade. As family matters, personal demons and bottled troubles all come out on the race track, both men must battle both against themselves and each other in order to create a ever-lasting legacy. Hunt is famous for being the very loud playboy type, reportedly sleeping with over 5,000 women in his time on the Earth, whereas Lauda was the inverse. A mechanical, confident and very certain man; run driven by passion of the sport rather than the promise of, well, passions.
Rush is somewhat centered on exploring the truth and love behind the sport, it’s one-hundred percent human drama. In the vein of Senna it probes against the very life behind the steering wheel and attempts to understand the drive, force and wit that men pour into this practice. All of this, all the championship and all the mechanics, is all in focus of setting a grander backdrop for the men to act out their great rivalry. Much like the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Julieti, or the Empire and Rebellion in Empire Strikes Back, an understanding of the politics and mechanics of the actual backdrop isn’t necessary in buying into the drama. Humanity is on show here, not intergalactic space politics, Venetian family histories or, indeed, Formula One engineering.
Ron Howard’s sure touch of history, however, is still felt throughout Rush. There’s a great sense of the Seventies that hangs throughout the whole picture. The hospital scenes feature, to us perhaps, primitive equipment shoved into people in order to save them. These brutal depictions are covered with a sure sense of the time, that this was the harsh reality. As Lauda watches on as Hunt goes on to win games, confined to a hospital bed, we buy into the great drama that begins to stir into him. Just as the hospital scenes are authentic, so too are the fashions, music and overall ‘feel’. The Seventies foundation isn’t the only anchor at play here but also the weather effects. Wind, rain, sleet and other images of ‘pathetic fallacy’ are instead reversed here to become genuine effects of hazard. Some of the film’s most breathtaking scenes happen under the cover of torrential rain and on the racing track. Its climax, featuring POV shots and a great bounty of rain, is an intense, terrifying and, in some sense, testosterone-curdling experience. Rush packs more scares than a lot of horror fare of this year.
It’s still completely about the relationship between Lauda and Hunt. Thankfully the script is here to play punches and show how, as the film actually says, the best gift that you can be given, sometimes, is an enemy. We watch Lauda and Hunt evolve to become pre-eminent forces in the motorsport and the steady stream of one-liners and banter helps keep the show afloat. Sometimes the film nearly discards entire races under the guise of flash montages, so as to keep the relationship at the absolute core of the film. I wondered if this would upset a few Formula One Fanatics but, in reality, the drama and love of the sport is the element placed in the middle and, really, that’s what is truly special and illuminating about the sport. These men buy into their own deaths, buy into being on the very edge of existence, and the drama that gushes from that is perfect territory for Ron Howard to (as proven) fruitfully put together a great endeavor of human drama.
It sells the film too that the performances are practically perfect. Chris Hemsworth simply works as the playboy James Hunt who just leaks charm and confidence in every single muscle-bound pore, he almost seems like a retroactive extension of Hemsworth’s persona itself. Brühl gives great weight to every single one of Lauda’s facial expressions and his teeth deserve their own sentence. Brühl’s teeth, and the make-up department, might be an actual show-stealer. Olivia Wilde shows her heart-melting face as Hunt’s one-time-bride Suzy Miller, and whilst playing the glamour and beauty girl elements to a tee she also shows off her great ability to give warmth and genuine human complexity to any scene. There’s also the other brief showings of folks like Christian McKay as Hemsworth’s financial benefactor, who’s just very bubbly. Stephen Mangan also manages to turn a few lines of a tertiary character, one of Hunt’s later mechanics Alastair Caldwell, into a brilliant and very heartfelt performance. One thing I don’t entirely buy into is Hemsworth’s accent in some instances, it’s somewhat leaking of a bit too much Downtown Abbey binge watching if I say so myself.
Really, though, Ron Howard has managed to create an absolute show-stopper of a performance. Some of the cinematography is as breathtaking as Inception, the weather effects and grand time-scale turn a human rivalry into a much more epic affair in line with the likes of Gladiator and the script still bubbles like the oil of a great machine, thanks to Peter ‘Frost/Nixon’ Morgan. I’ve used up most of my automobile-based metaphors and so I’ll just say it plain and simple. Rush shouldn’t scare you with its subject matter, it’s a great time no matter if your a petrol-blooded person or not. It’s just a… a… wheel-y good time.