*** (out of 5)
September 27, 2013
Chris Hemsworth as JAMES HUNT
Daniel Brühl as NIKI LAUDA
Olivia Wilde as SUZY MILLER
Alexandra Maria Lara as MARLENE LAUDA
Pierfrancesco Favino as CLAY REGZZONI
David Calder as LOUIS STANLEY
Directed by: Ron Howard
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’m not a racing fan. I’m not even an American racing fan. So the fact that I didn’t dislike “Rush” is a testament to the film as a character piece. In that sense, maybe there’s hope that American audiences, who crave NASCAR and IndyCar can find something to like in this Formula One Racing drama.
Actually, the reason this film can still be compelling for a non-racing fan is because it’s really not about racing. Sure, there are racing scenes in the film, and we have plenty of shots of engines revving and cars whizzing around the track. But rather than being about the cars and the game, “Rush” is more about the personalities that dominated Formula One racing in the 1970s.
“Rush” tells the story of two strong-willed drivers. James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is the epitome of 70s decadence. While he was a talented racer, his real drive was a sexual one, seeking out parties and fleeting relationships. The other end of the spectrum belonged to Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), a man more serious about the sport and not as prone to extravagance.
Hunt and Lauda had a feud on the course, though in reality they were friends. “Rush” shows how they pushed each other in the sport, and how the dangerous tracks resulted in life-changing events.
Forget the fact that you’re seeing Chris Hemsworth’s picture plastered all over the advertising. The story really belongs to Daniel Brühl and his portrayal of Lauda. Had Hemsworth not been such a good looking and up-and-coming star, he might have been the supporting character in all this. Unfortunately, Niki Lauda is not the guy Hollywood wants on a movie poster.
Here’s where the movie’s fatal flaw is. Because it’s less about the guy who is the literal poster boy for the movie, the film ends up being very conflicted. From the opening narration, which is Lauda’s, it takes some time to reconcile expectations with the reality of the film. There’s a mental catch-up that needs to take place, especially when Hunt pretty much disappears for a chunk of the film in the middle while the plot focuses solely on Lauda.
Still, the characters and story – as misdirected as it can be at times – still works. It’s also an exceptionally well-acted film, with Ron Howard working his directorial magic and redeeming himself from the disappointing “The Dilemma” a couple years ago.
Still, this isn’t a home run for Howard. While “Rush” is a compelling film, it’s very hard for me to relate to. Not being a racing fan, and living in a country where NASCAR trumps pretty much everything else on four wheels, it’s hard to find a grounding point for some of the events. The movie is so steeped in the 70s that it sometimes plays out as a bit of a send-up of the decade rather than a realistic portrayal of it.
In some ways, “Rush” reminds me of Howard’s other 70s drama “Frost/Nixon.” While supremely acted, I never shook the notion that “Frost/Nixon” was an irrelevant film. It was made for the polarized audience. Those who hated Nixon loved watching him vicariously get beaten up on television. Those who defended Nixon rolled their eyes at him being interviewed by a fluffy British pop culture celebrity.
But for someone like me, who is removed from the decade and not having a deep-seeded opinion about post-Presidency Nixon, that film was irrelevant. Nothing happened of note, aside from what either side perceived. Nixon never admitted anything, and he simply skirted around some uncomfortable questions. Frost never had a slam dunk, and he ended up with a bit of a stalemate.
Similarly, “Rush” is about events that are so removed from my interest that I wasn’t even aware they happened. It’s a compelling drama from a character perspective, but its impact on my perception of history is equivalent to shrugging its shoulders.