Anyone planning to skip Rush on the grounds that it’s “a race car movie” should reconsider. Ron Howard’s dramatization of the 1970s rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) packs enough pace, story, character, and action to impress nearly any viewer, including those who make it a point to bypass channels broadcasting the sport. With nary a dull moment and featuring an exemplary butting of heads, it’s essentially Howard’s Frost/Nixon on wheels. Far greater than the sum of its plot points, there may not be a better way to tell this story, which in turn makes the film quite possibly perfect for what it is.
Since Rush is a character study, the film starts and ends with its leads, each of whom represent ideal casting. If there’s a charismatic young heartthrob more capable of pulling off Hunt’s breezy British nature while still being a decent box-office draw than the Australian-born Hemsworth, then that actor must have bombed his audition. As his determined, no-nonsense Austrian counterpart, the German Brühl dons false teeth to convey (in Hunt’s words) Lauda’s “rat face,” yet few of his European peers have the chameleonic skills to embody such a person. Comparing these creations with photos of their real-life opposites, the actors not only fully look and sound the parts, but bring the requisite spirit to make their dynamic hum.
While Thor receives top billing and is the film’s promotional face, each line out of Brühl’s mouth is an intriguing, sharp barb that holds nothing back and stakes his claim in his personal and professional worlds. Much credit goes to Peter Morgan for supplying the words, but Brühl’s delivery and overall presence are the keys factors that make the dialogue special. Naturally, Lauda’s painful truths don’t fly with the cocky, risk-loving Hunt, his foil in nearly all facets and a brilliant driver in his own right. Flanked by a solid supporting cast, many of whom will be recognizable to those who’ve seen a few BBC series, the two drivers’ contentious relationship deepens as they motivate one another in unforeseen ways, leading to a wealth of memorable exchanges.
Shot in the crisp yet somewhat blurred, retro appearance of Frost/Nixon, the film likewise looks of its era. Archival footage of the actual races are seen on spectators’ televisions and are expertly cut with Howard’s more epic recreations. Furthering the visual feel is a smart use of race posters that give way to clips from the tracks themselves, a pattern that keeps the action moving and conveys a clear timeline, all of which is aided by Hans Zimmer’s churning, heroic score. Yet while the races are thrilling and boosted by in-depth camerawork (if it’s possibly to film something on the cars, inside or out, it’s included here), the competition remains second to the human drama. In the end, Formula 1 is but a means to a clashing of styles that could have occurred in almost any profession. That it found an action-packed home at speeds over 200 mph is merely a bonus and one that doesn’t detract from Rush’s top assets.
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use.
Rush is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.