Rush -- A High-Octane Thriller with Human Element

                                    I have never followed or had much interest in the Formula 1 racing, which has group of peoples spending a dangerously significant period of time to race in circles around a track. Thankfully, deep knowledge or a love for this sport is not required to watch Ron Howard’s “Rush” (2013). However, I think once enthusiasm for this film might doubly increase if they really are a fan of racing. Ron Howard is famous for making Hollywoodized “based on true story” movies. “Apollo 13”, “A Beautiful Mind”, “Cinderella Man” and “Frost/Nixon” are all well balanced character studies based upon real persons. With “Rush”, he takes the legendary 1976 Formula 1 season to showcase the conflicts between two outsized personalities.

                                 There haven’t been many good racing films. “Driven”, “Days of Thunder”, “Tallegeda Nights” and Wachowski’s “Speed Racer” are all junkyard of movies. Most often the film-makers concentrate on shiny cars and stylistic stunts to totally the ignore the story and characterization. On the contrary, “Rush” is a drama about racing men who make their livelihood by flirting with death. Yeah, cars blast off together and the speed approaches 200 miles per hour, but our attention will be on two potentially dislikeable characters onscreen.

                               Handsome and cocky British race car driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) loves the racing sport so much as to risk his life. Apart from racing, Hunt loves three things: booze, drugs and sex. Austrian Nikki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is Hunt’s polar opposite, who has left his rich family business career with dreams of becoming a champion driver. Lauda always calculates risks and never goes over a 20 percent chance of dying in the racing field. His precise and aloof manner has earned him the nickname “Rat.” Hunt announces, "The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel." However, Lauda sees this as a business opportunity: "If I had more talent and could win more money at something else, I would." 

                            The two competitors take a strong disliking with each other, when they first meet in the minor F3 racing track. Hunt wins that race and from then on they are locked in a neck-and-neck struggle for the world championship. Their rivalry reached an apex point in the 1976 Grand Prix, where the traded victories after victories in Brazil, South Africa, Spain, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Monaco, Germany and Japan. The stark contrast in their personalities followed its way into the personal lives too. Hunt married Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) -- a model – which quickly fell apart when she left him for Hollywood actor Richard Burton. Lauda married Marlene (Alexandra MariaLara), who brought a change in his life to make him rethink his approach of risk assessment.

                           The 1970’s racing world faced 12 F1 fatalities, which was noted early in the film by Lauda: "Twenty-five drivers start Formula One each year, and two of us die." However, the variety of safety measures has vanquished the fatalities such that no driver has been killed since 1994. The script by Peter Morgan (“Last King of Scotland”, “The Queen”, and “The Damned United”) covers both the crowd-pleasing scenes and the subtle, meaningful moments. He mostly avoids sports genre cliches, but also takes some liberties in timelines and in making composite characters. Morgan marvelously invests his main characters with idiosyncrasies – Hunt throws up before each race and Lauda alienates himself from others with his arrogance.

                         Ron Howard’s direction is crisp, which neatly interweaves the character canvasses and racing scenes with a satisfying blend. He brings in lot of flash cuts, close-ups of roaring engines and montages but slows up now and then during the proceedings in order to give us some proximity to the characters, or else we might never cared about the racing results. In the end, Howard doesn’t offer up any conditional messages, which may so often pervade in this big awards-season. Oscar winner Anthony Dod Mantle’s color-splashed cinematography (“Slumdog Millionaire”, 127 Hours”) marvelously uses the point-of-view shot from within the car that owes a lot to the helmet-mounted cameras. The camera is aware of both the cool and sexy vibe that permeated the 1970’s world and of the arousing, steely dynamism of machines.

                      Using "Thor" fame Chris Hemsworth in the movie posters is just a Hollywood marketing gimmick, because this film belongs to Daniel Bruhl’s Lauda. Of course, Hemsworth is charming and excellent as Hunt. He is entirely genuine and offers an emotionally complex character, but Bruhl’s work here is nuanced and very original. The cool pragmatist Lauda might have easily turned out to be a villain, if not for Bruhl’s actions depicting the humanity inside. The German star plays charmless and prickly characters but eventually flexes him out to be the most admirable one. The final interaction between Hunt and Lauda showcases how our rigid ideas are shattered by our enemies and about the positive role they can play in our lives.

Ron Howard and Anthony Dod Mantle

                    “Rush” is a perfectly crafted unassumingly entertaining big-studio movie. It appreciates its characters’ mutual animosity and turns them into memorable figures. The typical biopic cliches doesn’t blemish this dynamic character-driven racing movie.



Murtaza Ali Khan said...

The movie is good but the rivalry was truly a great one!!!

Vetirmagal said...

I too loved the movie. Enjoyed it much and Liked Nicky and James. A good review.

Arun Kumar said...

@ Murtaza Ali, Thanks for the comment. I heard that the real rivalry/friendship of Lauda and Hunt is more fascinating than what shown in the movie. Yet to the documentary based upon them.

@ Pattu Raj, Thanks for the comment. Glad that you enjoyed the movie.