Thursday, 19 September 2013

Rush Review; Formula 1 Finally Got Interesting!

The critical success of the documentary Senna proved that audiences can enjoy films about motor racing, but with disappointments like The Dilemma and Angels and Demons still in recent memory, the real question is; can Ron Howard still make a good movie?

Rush tells the real life story of British Formula 1 driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) during his rivalry with Austrian competitor Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) at the 1976 World Championship races. After a near fatal crash at the German Grand Prix, Lauda returns to face off against Hunt for the final race at Fuji, in Japan.

While the synopsis screams 'sports drama', it would be far more accurate to describe Rush as an in depth character study. Sure, there's lots of beautiful cars on display and the racing is thrilling from the get go, but Peter Morgans script is more concerned with how far people will go in order to be the best at what they do. Showdowns between big personalities seem to have become a specialty of the scriptwriter, from The Queen to Frost/Nixon, and although the setting or time period may change, Morgan is always adept at uncovering the fascinating truths underneath the bravado and confrontation.

Despite how rousing the races are, the moments that gripped me the most were off track and revolved around the interactions between Hunt and Lauda before, during and after key races. The relationship they share begins as a simple rivalry, with both men calling each other arseholes in their native languages. Its a credit to Morgans script though that the film didn't just keep the dynamic at this childish yet amusing level. As events unfold, intense hatred does indeed raise its head, but notions of respect and honor also come into play, creating an experience with far more depth for the viewer than I originally anticipated.

rushwomen2None of this would work though without the right casting and Howard has redeemed himself after the embarrassing performance he coaxed out of Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, Dan Browns favorite symbologist . After becoming known for big blockbuster roles in the likes of Thor and Snow White and the Huntsman, Aussie Hemsworth impresses in his role as Hunt, perfectly embodying the playboy character whose world slowly crumbles around him as his wife leaves and his car fails him on the track. Despite his arrogance, womanising and slightly dodgy British schoolboy accent,  Hunt actually comes across as very likable, due largely to Hemsworth's sheer charisma. Inner thoughts of the character are revealed subtly through physical tics, such as fidgeting with a lighter when nervous, and while these do add depth to Hunt's portrayal, I do wish that the script had given Hemsworth even more to play with in terms of character development.

rushlaudaIn contrast, Daniel Bruhl's character is given far more to work with. While Hunt goes into each race blindly by the skin of his teeth, Lauda meticulously plans for every eventuality, calculating the exact calculations necessary to win and it's this obsession which makes the Austrian more interesting on a performance level. That's not to say that Lauda is likable though. He's far from it, yet once again, after an incredible performance in Inglorious Bastards, Bruhl manages to create empathy for a character who could easily have been perceived as a one dimensional villain.

Due to the focus on the two leads, the supporting cast are sidelined for the most part, which is a shame as Christian McKay particularly stands out in a small role as Hunt's original team manager. Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara also barely get a look in as the wives of both men and I feel that their omission was an oversight on Morgan's part, as the women's relationships with their racing-obsessed husbands could have shed more light on their daredevil lifestyles.

While the cast and script have a huge impact on the quality of a film, you should never overlook the director and here, Howard reminds us why he is one of the most iconic film makers of his generation. Taking a sport which some find dull - lap 79, are you kidding me? - would be a challenge for many directors, but Howard enthralls the viewer through his use of high speed framing and unexpected camera angles that keep us on the edge of our seats during the high octane races. Howard's use of a 70s setting and subtle period costumes also successfully enhances the thrills off track, depicting Hunt's decadent lifestyle as one to envy, despite lapses into addiction.

The final race is obviously the high point as far as action goes, yet it's the last scene that resonated most with me. After the World Championships have ended, Hunt and Lauda bump into one another unexpectedly at an Italian airport and share one last exchange before the credits roll. Without spoiling anything, I will say that this was the standout moment for me and in a particularly brave example of script writing, audiences are left wondering who really came out on top at the end of the competition and if there was indeed any winner at all.

rushracingAfter some misses recently, Ron Howard is back on form with Rush, a film that combines intelligent dialogue and storytelling with action packed races that will more than satisfy the Fast and the Furious obsessives out there. Not bad for a movie that focuses on a sport I thought would be exceptionally dull to watch. Something tells me I now need to go and watch the British documentary Senna. Maybe it is actually as good as everyone says it is...

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