Film Review – Rush
Thrilling races with a good rivalry between two great drivers make for a fun time in Rush, even if the storytelling is standard in several ways. With sports movies, getting an audience to care about a sport that they may have no knowledge of is always hard, but director Ron Howard gives us enough detail to let us understand the dynamic of Formula One racing and see why racers and spectators are interested in it. This is helped by having two real figures of racing, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), reflect different aspects of the sport. Their styles are incompatible, but they both have a desire to win.
When we are introduced to Hunt, he has gotten into a fight with another racer and is using the story to seduce the nurse treating him. He is a man who is into the thrill of the race, enjoying life at every moment, drinking, sleeping with women, and just being a fun person to be around. Yet he can be so nervous that he vomits before every race.
Lauda comes from a wealthy family that doesn’t approve of his life, which gives him the drive to be successful. He is disciplined in his lifestyle so he is always at his best, and even gets deep into the technicality about what racing entails and tries to make the best car. He wants to prove himself as the best, but is so serious about his work and career that he is distant and comes off like a jerk much of the time.
Unfortunately, besides having these personality quirks, there is little that makes Hunt and Lauda seem like full people; they exist solely as racers. Everyone around them is just an aspect of them being racers: people to repair the cars or promote the drivers. No one really brings anything out of them, because no other character has anything that makes them stand out. Even romantic relationships are never really developed. Hunt’s marriage to Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) is so quickly introduced and ended that it adds nothing to who Hunt is as a person. Lauda’s love interest, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), is given a little more detail and serves to be someone Lauda can care about, but we learn little about who she really is. This ends up making Hunt and Lauda work more as constructs of a lifestyle than as fully developed people. While it gives the viewer enough to form an opinion on who you’d prefer to win, there is little else the characters provide as people.
Yet this shallowness is overcome by what this film is best at, which is the tension that goes on in the races. Howard’s camera follows the cars with great precision, allowing the usual racing audience to see the twists of the track and the way the race can change in seconds as the racers pass by each other. We also get to see the work of the drivers—the quick movements and adjustments they have to make to keep the cars going and avoid crashing; the looks in their eyes. The adrenaline and the pressure they are under are clear. Howard also doesn’t shy away from showing the horror, getting in close to see the destruction of the cars and, in some cases, the drivers, letting us know that this is a dangerous sport and never whitewashing the results.
This is an enjoyable film. However, the rivalry never jumps off the screen or feels like it is all-consuming. The racing is fun and engaging, keeping the sport exciting and unpredictable in how the races will turn out. Howard knows how to keep the tension going and keep us involved just enough to make us care about these two racers that we really know little about. So while who they are as people is left unexplored, what they represent gives us at least a feeling of wanting one of them to win, and for a racing movie, that’s enough to keep things interesting.