RUSH Review

Upon first hearing about Rush I was under the impression that it would mainly center itself around the wreck in which Formula 1 race car driver Niki Lauda was severely burned and had such a drive to compete and will to win and become world champion that he returned to racing less than a month after his wreck and surprised everyone. Even in that admittedly compact and typical synopsis it is easy to see why this true life story would be ideal to tell on the big screen, especially with the bonus of being a sports movie. I also assumed that Chris Hemsworth would be playing Lauda as he seemed the central point of the project and I had no former knowledge of the world of Formula 1 racing or what type of history they were pulling from here. When I watched the first trailer for the film and discovered that not only was the film about Lauda, as portrayed by Daniel Brühl of Inglorious Basterds, overcoming the brakes his near fatal crash put on his career, but also a famous rivalry between he and the far more adventurous James Hunt (Hemsworth) I was pleasantly surprised there was more to the story. While I've never been a fan of racing it was easy to see why this movie could be an intriguing piece of drama and with Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) at the helm it was at least guaranteed to some degree that there would be a level of pedigree to the project, but whether it would stray towards safe, middle ground or exceptional territory was what we were left to determine. Lucky for us, Rush is not simply the movie of a man who drives cars in circles for a living overcoming a set of odds, but it is almost a psychological evaluation of two men who have vastly different approaches to the same thing and how those approaches define them as men and determine every other aspect of their lives that has nothing to do with their job that happens to put them in life or death situations every time they start their engines. It is a fascinating and thrilling film to experience, one I could hardly make any complaints about other than the fact that it didn't have as impressive an impact on me as I expected. Still, this is a well crafted film that defies story convention and features great performances from its two leads that will serve as a true breakout for one and a definitive breakaway for the other.

Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) find themselves
in an unfortunate set of circumstances. 
Beginning in August of 1976 we are first introduced to Lauda who tells us up front that it cannot be normal men that crave the satisfaction racing cars brings. It is established almost immediately after this admission that he has a rivalry with James Hunt. To Lauda, Hunt seems nothing more than a fellow driver who pushes him further, helps him do better than he might did he not have someone busting his balls and so he offers no explanation as to why the rivalry between the two of them became such a big deal. It is strange at first as we believe the story will be told from Lauda's perspective despite the fact he comes to be the less-likable one of the two, but it is he that is remembered both for the rivalry and moreso for the crash and the speedy recovery. When the film transitions and introduces us to Hunt in the same fashion it is made clear the film is not taking any sides and isn't going to paint either of these men as the stationary "good guy" or "bad guy" but simply as men who live their lives to the tune of different philosophies. While Lauda is very by the book, very professional, not only about his racing or how his cars are built, but about everything in his life you could easily describe Hunt as being the complete opposite. Hunt is not in the racing game because he has a passion for the mechanics of it all or because he has the brain to build the better engine or knows every statistic that might give him an advantage, no, Hunt is in it purely because he gets a rush out of it. In his opening monologue he even states that he knows women aren't attracted to race car drivers because of what they do but because they come so close to death, because they are dangerous. In the same way this is why Hunt is attracted to the sport; this and the fact he has no interest in becoming a banker like his father or working a middle class job that allows him to barely scrape by. He is good at both going and living fast and he embraces that lifestyle with no holds barred. Howard captures the ferocity of these attitudes in the racing scenes that put us right in the middle of the claustrophobic nature of the cars while also brutally showing the pain Lauda must go through to recover after his horrific wreck. Following these two men on their distinct paths allows the tension to build as their worlds and interests in obtaining the status of world champion collide and intersect with one another throughout the 1976 racing season.

Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) the most surprising and appealing aspect of the film is the way in which it is structured. It wastes no time in trying to set up the world in which our two leads exist and function in on a daily basis, it simply delivers it in the actions the characters take. As someone who doesn't know anything about the world of Formula 1 racing it was both impressive and almost nondescript in the way it goes about giving the details of how drivers must progress to get endorsed and be able to compete in the big leagues while consistently telling us something about who these guys were and why they would face certain obstacles at different points in the road. Hunt has the raw talent and so he doesn't care as much about the technicalities or the mechanics of how his car works, he just wants it to work and for it to be able to match his needs. This comes into play when the very specific, the very calculated Lauda points to things that could get Hunt disqualified while Hunt is willing to do whatever it takes to get the thrill and the recognition even if Lauda sees the statistics of situations not being worth the risk. While this all clearly defines the characters it also fleshes out why there was such a palpable rivalry between the two in that they both pushed one another and in turn never lost each of their respective edges that would hold them neck and neck down to that final race. What is a testament to the film is how well this comes across and how well Hemsworth and Brühl capture the spirit of these men. Morgan's script gives plenty of indications in small details about these guys as I noticed the birds that Hunt would keep near him and the pure calculation of Lauda's dialogue, but beyond these the performers keep these people interesting for the two-hour run-time and Brühl especially does a fine job of expressing the intelligence and the inherent dignity of Lauda that we recognize, but is hard for others to see simply because he doesn't sugarcoat anything or give someone more credit than they are due. He is very matter-of-fact and most call him an asshole for it, but the results of how he chooses to live his life clearly justify those decisions. Hemsworth, on the other hand, is more than able at transcending the party boy image Hunt was keen to display at every opportunity and bring a real gravity to him, especially in certain scenes where it is necessary he elicit something more than just a good time.

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl in Ron Howard's Rush.
As I said in the opening paragraph of my review, the only aspect of the film that left me wanting slightly more from it was the visceral reaction I expected after learning about each of these men and as I didn't know the outcome of the '76 racing season I hoped that, unlike Lauda, I would be able to take the logic and the reason out of the scenario and simply have an emotional reaction to the material, but even as it came to a satisfactory close and was dealt with in a respectable manner I ultimately didn't feel any real connection to what had taken place in front of me. Yes, I was into it and was engaged by everything that was going on and by the time period and new world I hardly knew existed, but I wasn't moved or affected in a way that gave me the impression I was experiencing something great. This is a very good film, it has all the elements one would hope to receive from a historical drama and even more in many facets, but there are hiccups here and there as Lauda's relationship with his wife, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), becomes the single most important aspect of the racer's life yet we don't really understand why or how they came to have this understanding or love with one another. Marlene has little to do given the fact she played such a large role in Lauda's decisions concerning his professsion and Olivia Wilde shows up for a few scenes as Suzy Miller, but her marriage to Hunt only seems highlighted from the barrage of other girls he shacks up with because she too was well-known at the time. It was all well and good to cast Wilde in that role and have her play out that part of Hunt's life, but the film keeps going back to her as if there is a deeper connection between them, but none of that rang true because Miller is hardly fleshed out and serves more as a summation of what Hunt wanted rather than what he likely needed. These complaints are minor though when compared to things such as the beautiful cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, who shoots all of Danny Boyle's films, as well as the understated score from Hans Zimmer. These elements, along with Howard's confident direction and knowledge of cars go hand in hand with creating an intricate story of man and machine and how coming so close to death is getting the most out of life.