I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not into sports at all – in any way. Therefore it was with some trepidation that I entered the screening for Rush, Ron Howard’s new slick racing film depicting the rivalry between British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and calculating Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) of the 1976 Formula 1 World Championship.
From the first pulsating beats of Hans Zimmer’s score and the crisp shots of the cars in frame, your mind is set at ease. Ron Howard’s vivid, punchy direction pounds the intensity of the racing in your face in such a fashion that you’re split right down the middle, not sure whether to be scared or thrilled. Sometimes both. But of course, in the best way possible.
The performances of our two leads are as well constructed and polished as the cars themselves. Chris Hemsworth loud, garish portrayal of James Hunt spot on. His seemingly endless sexual encounters may descend into realms of gratuitousness at some points and his accent occasionally slips into Thor territory. However, on the whole he manages to pull off becoming a devil-may-care, charming and thoroughly unlikable character.
Daniel’s Niki Lauda, certainly the more restrained of the two, for me brings out a better performance. It certainly seems to the viewer at some points that it is impossible to have two people so unlike each other and if perhaps there has been a fair portion of creative license thrown into the mix for good measure. All this aside, Niki Lauda is portrayed as a scheming and ruthlessly determined man, which makes for some fantastic character scenes, regardless of historical accuracy.
The script, written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland) is a great piece of work, filled with dialogue ranging from the snappy quarrelling of Hunt and Lauda (egged on by the great chemistry of the leads) to slow, powerful soliloquies from various characters about the risk of racing and the poignancy of putting your life on the line for it.
The supporting cast are all top-notch. With comic relief being given fresh on a platter from people like Steven Mangan, the mood never dips too depressive from characters like Olivia Wilde’s Suzy and Alexandria Maria Lara’s Marlene, wives of Hunt and Lauda respectively. Every so often in their haste to obliterate each other on the track, our protagonists are dragged back into the real world by their wives, reminding them that racing isn’t everything and they’re tearing their marriages apart. Their performances are good as well, although Olivia Wilde’s character ultimately does little to progress the story, simply existing to show how careless Hemsworth’s Hunt is.
Hans Zimmer’s genius has once again created a fantastic score, bellowing low growls of engines below the swelling epic sounds, all coming together with perfect harmony to accompany the races. It ensures that if you weren’t already gripping your seat, you wouldn’t be far from it.
There are a few problems with the film. The predominant one being that the film never really knows whose story the film is about. With voiceover monologues from both characters at various stages, it’s never really clear who the focus is on. This becomes especially problematic during the races, as the film will jump from rooting from one to the other in the course of minutes. This means it’s confusing at some points where the film’s allegiances lie as the two racing titans do battle with each other on the track. That being said, it’s very easy to overlook this due to the sheer exhilaration of the races themselves, with the camera swerving viciously between the cars as they feel like real dangerous death traps.
Ron Howard may have created an exaggerated sports drama made as simple to follow as possible, but in those broad exaggerations comes visceral thrills and memorable, poignant characters that makes Rush both consistently entertaining and suitably exciting.
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