Posted on 17 October 2013 by Chris
by Andrew T. Maness of This Nice Life
Like many automotive enthusiasts I’d been anticipating the release of Rush for quite some time. When I finally went to see it last week I promised myself that I’d turn off the filmmaker side of my brain and simply enjoy the ride. Obviously that’s easier said than done and anyone who has spent even just one day on a set knows what I mean. Part of the challenge was to pretend that I hadn’t followed Ron Howard’s production from day one on Twitter. Also I would have to put aside the fact that I knew what was going to happen given that I’m a fan of F1 and the great rivalries in the sport. Going into the theater I was actually worried that my expectations might be too high and I knew too much about it to enjoy it. Then I had comforting realization, that Ron Howard is a master filmmaker. Two of my all time favorite movies are Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man and both are based on true stories with which I was very familiar prior to seeing the films. It was at that point that I was able to relax because clearly Howard doesn’t need to rely on the element of surprise to tell a compelling story or make an entertaining film.
Sure, many people aren’t familiar with the story of James Haunt and Niki Lauda, my girlfriend being one of them. She wasn’t exactly shocked when Lauda crashed and to be fair there is a good amount of foreshadowing but that didn’t take away from the impact of the events. I think that’s what makes Rush a great film and Howard a great filmmaker. He’s once again taken a story that many people know and told it in a new and exciting way. The people who don’t know the story and may not otherwise be interested are drawn to it because of the craftsmanship evident on the screen. If you’re a stickler for detail in cinema then you’ll flat out love Rush. The set design and costume design are phenomenal. I found myself paying as much attention to the period appropriate sponsor logos and patch placement as anything. The cinematography of course is top notch as one would expect with a Howard film, this time calling on Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionare, 28 Days Later, 127 Hours) to capture the essence of the 70’s F1 scene. Something I think something many sports films suffer from is the seemingly repetitive nature of competition. As a fan you know that the location of the contest is what makes each one different but that’s hard to convey on the screen and often films aren’t able to. Not the case with Rush, each race has a defined look and feel that’s different from the last. They even pulled off the ol’ “racing montage” thanks to the talented editing of Dan Hanley whose credits include other Howard films such as A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, and The Da Vinci Code.
I found the pacing of Rush to be excellent though I’m sure some of my peers might find it to be a bit slow. At 123 minutes it’s by no means a quick watch but every minute of Peter Morgan’s (The Queen, The Damned United, The Last King Of Scotland) screenplay being brought to life is worth your time. For me there are no throw away scenes in Rush and that’s truly the mark of a great film. This is because great films are the result of a massive collaborative undertaking gone right. So what do many films fail to get right thus falling short of greatness? Bad casting and as a result, the sub-par performances that are for some reason more and more common in films that otherwise might have been great. I know a-lot of people would disagree with me and say that a great director can coax a great performance out of a not so great actor. While that might be true in some cases I don’t think it applies when an actor is totally mis-cast. Luckily the casting for Rush was very on point. While the initial choice to cast Chris Hemsworth may have been motivated by the need for a “face” to help put butts in seats I think it also proved an artistically wise one. Hemsworth, (who most people know as the hammer-swinging member of The Avengers) gives a wonderful performance as the handsome lothario the public knew James Haunt to be, but it’s the glimpses into the private life of Haunt that really allow Hemsworth to subtly kick it up a notch. It’s always refreshing to see an actor who is clearly comfortable with his role and his range. There was never a moment where I felt that Hemsworth was overdoing it and the same cannot be said for many of his peers (looking at you Chris Pine and Ryan Reynolds). Of course Hemsworth may be the one on the poster but it is Daniel Brühl (Inglorious Basterds, The Fifth Estate) who is the star of the film. I really hope the Academy sees it that way too because the guy completely disappears into character as Niki Lauda. If you’re not a fan of F1, Ron Howard films, great rivalries in sports or partial female nudity you should still go see Rush because of Brühl’s performance. It’s hard fathom how difficult it must be to take a guy who was pretty much universally disliked and make him the guy you end up rooting for. The complete opposite of Haunt, Lauda was cold, calculated and unfriendly. At least that’s what he wanted people to think when he broke onto the F1 scene.
Throughout the film you come to see that him being rough around the edges was simply his defense mechanism, it’s what allowed to him perform at such a high level. While Hemsworth has no shortage of great scenes, it is Brühl’s that I find myself remembering as being the most impressive. Which reminds me that I have to point out that Ron Howard made sure to earn the R-rating that Rush received. The film is by no means gory but it pulls no punches either. I’m sure a fair amount of audiences will have their nails dug into the armrests during a scene in which Lauda has a metal tube put down his throat to vacuum toxic gunk out of his lungs, twice. All the while he keeps an eye on the TV, watching Haunt win races, chipping away at his points lead. It’s moments like that where you have to wonder how anyone could compete with these guys. The more you learn about these two men and their very different approaches not only to racing but to life, you realize why their stories are worthy of being made into a film. Their personalities combine to make up the tone of Rush as great main characters should. At times it is intense, sad and dark, however it answers with moments of joy, optimism and humility. It’s an exercise in measured, efficient and balanced filmmaking. That’s what made the film so enjoyable for me and I hope it’s the same for you.