No, the song Tom Sawyer does not pop up anywhere here, now quit asking.
Rush was one of my favorite movies of the year when it first premiered back in September. I recall that I gave it a good review in one of my early Movie Snobbery posts on Facebook, back when I didn’t have this blog. But ever since I introduced Extended Reviews here, and the fact that I recently bought the Blu-ray for this movie, I think that this is a movie that more people need to enjoy as not many have heard of it (a crying shame). Rush is the latest film from director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon) and writer/occasional playwright Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon). With those two names out in the open then there should be every bit of confidence that the movie is going to be good. It’s a movie about race cars with a dramatic edge. That should stir the loins of every male audience member out there. An added bonus is the fact that one of the main characters of which the movie was based (and notorious for being harsh with adaptations) gave the film his approval, commenting that there was little that was changed from how it happened in real life. That’s a rare achievement for films nowadays.
Rush is about the 1976 season of Formula 1, the highest class of motor racing, and the rivalry between the two best drivers at the time: James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Hunt is a fearless, socially extravagant, and brash racer while Lauda is calculating, methodical, and rather cold towards most of the people that he meets. The two drivers’ clashing personalities and driving styles ultimately lead to them developing a rivalry during their early days racing in the lower class of Formula 3. When both of them manage to make it into Formula 1, they resume clashing spears in earnest on the track and off it. The occasional childish antics continue until Lauda (ancient history here so I’m technically not spoiling anything) crashes during a race at the Nurburgring, disfiguring him and immobilizing him in the hospital for some time, until Lauda recovers to race against Hunt again, to finish the business of becoming world champion. The film does not delve in to cliche with the whole rivalry business, between the two they approach the whole affair as rather normal for race car drivers. One could claim that they both enjoy the ribbing, in a masochistic way. Even though harsh words are exchanged, blows are never traded and the two eventually develop a mutual respect for the other, a gentleman’s rivalry, so to speak. The interaction between the two leads is the most developed part of the movie, giving Lauda and Hunt ample time to mature and grow as competitors in the field. The films succeeds purely because of this fact.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor) plays James Hunt in Rush and, for the most part, is fine. He’s embodies the arrogant, egotistical scoundrel that is Hunt and manages to convey every emotion rather convincingly. Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds), however, steals the show as Niki Lauda. It should be a federal crime that Bruhl was not nominated for Best Supporting Actor as he certainly gave the best performance of his career (and then some) as the shrewd Lauda. You feel sympathetic towards Lauda after all that he’s been through, you find yourself supporting him and cheering him on during the races. Hell, you even cheer on James Hunt as both of them are not made out to be villainous or antagonistic, they’re just drivers and the film doesn’t bother with that black and white crap. It’s more intelligent than that. Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy, Cowboys & Aliens) makes an appearance as Hunt’s temporary wife, who manages to convincingly portray a British accent, but then disappears after the first half of the film. It isn’t a big loss as she wasn’t the most interesting romantic partner in the film anyway. That honor goes to Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall, The Reader) who plays Marlene, Lauda’s wife. You could say that marriage was the best thing to happen to Lauda in the movie as Marlene provides him with a reason to act even more careful on the track and that he makes decisions while racing that enable him to spend more time with his wife, rather than risk his life driving in circles. There’s a touching scene when Lauda makes his triumphant return to Formula 1 and he looks at his wife for approval and she is all smiles and tears. That sort of scene is what helps drive the movie forward, the genuine reactions that these characters have to dramatic moments. Game of Thrones fans will spot Natalie Dormer early on in the film as one of Hunt’s many sexual conquests. You’d think that with all the notoriety she’s gotten she would be able to obtain roles that are more than cameos. Oh well.
Now here’s the biggie. The racing scenes are superb. They aren’t like any of the scenes from Fast and Furious where you have 26 mile long runways or cars that manage to defy every law of physics known to man, they are treated like the real deal. The sound capturing the roar of the engines is insane, it literally feels like you are sitting in the bleachers, watching the race. Car buffs will be ecstatic to see the icons of their childhood: Ferrari and McLaren duke it out on the circuit, bringing the legendary rivalry to life on more than two fronts. Same goes for the cinematography. Duties for that were handled by Anthony Dod Mantle, known for his kinetic style of shooting. You can see examples of his work in several of the films he’s done with Danny Boyle, namely Slumdog Millionaire and 28 Days Later. He was also the one to shoot Dredd (with the help of Gavin Free), a film that was cinematic eye-candy for any slo-mo freaks. Mantle’s shooting really puts you up close and personal with the cars as the camera shifts from inside the helmet to shaking with the chassis of the car itself. It’s a visceral experience and another criminal snub for Mantle (no love, Oscars?) Scoring duties were delegated to Hans Zimmer, who as I said before, composed one of my favorite soundtracks of all time with this film. Zimmer uses the rock and roll atmosphere of the 70s to craft his soundtrack and add muscular synthetic layers for added masculinity in a sport that is predominately masculine. Add a noble theme to the mix and you have a genuine crowd pleaser that completely matches the tone of the film (and yet another Oscar snub for this movie. Was the Academy trying to give Rush the record for the most snubbed movie in existence?)
So you have excellent performances from the cast, a strong score to support the film, and racing scenes that puts any movie with car competitions in it to shame and out of that you get Rush. Rush is one of those films that gets practically everything right and there are no negative things to say about it. It isn’t a perfect movie, granted, but it gets pretty damn close and I encourage anyone to seek this movie out even if you don’t care for the sport of Formula 1. I wasn’t, and now I am thinking about looking into it.
Final Score: 95/100