Movie Review: "Rush"
Director Ron Howard’s biographical drama “Rush” takes nearly half an hour to rev its engines. But once it does, it’s a solid, sturdy and thrilling survey of two adrenaline-craving Formula One racers who are battling for the coveted 1976 championship title.
The movie opens with an unnecessary scene from later in the movie’s timeline that leads up to the moments of a pivotal race. From there, the two central characters introduce themselves as we flash back to their humble beginnings in Formula 3.
Up-and-comer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, “Thor”) fits a familiar archetype: the suave lothario with a destructive streak. His opponent, Austrian racer Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl, “Inglourious Basterds”), operates by a strict code and follows the rules diligently. What a surprise: tensions ensue.
In the first act, Howard seems unable to keep the camera steady or let a scene breathe, but the movie steadily improves in rhythm and tempo. Peter Morgan’s script nimbly weaves through the 1976 Formula One contests, with onscreen graphics detailing the outcomes of events that we see only in brief snippets. The insistent pace builds powerfully to a climax that wrings suspense and drama from a rainy contest.
Without the two performances at its center, “Rush” might fall into a puddle of sports movie cliches, but Hemsworth and Bruhl deliver a nuanced rivalry for the ages. Hemsworth is an authentic movie star here, with magnetic charisma and flowing golden hair that Howard and the lighting crew seem particularly enamored with. Bruhl, by contrast, humanizes a character who threatens to be less than three-dimensional in his rigidity. By the end, the movie fleshes out the relationship beyond a binary.
“Frost/Nixon” scribe Peter Morgan’s script lapses too frequently into cliches and thematic posturing, with the characters articulating the movie’s themes even when they’re all too clear. Subtlety isn’t the movie’s strong suit. Morgan also has little use for the female characters, who either serve as the racers’ wives (Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara, both wasted) or more frequently, Hunt’s one-dimensional sexual partners.
Howard renders the racing sequences with dynamism and kineticism, cutting rapidly between the racetrack, the inside of the cars, the audience and the announcers’ box to emphasize the swirl of activity. The biggest emotional punch comes off the track, though, when a key character experiences a traumatic event that leaves him permanently scarred.
“Rush” focuses tightly on Hunt and Lauda, often at the expense of the other racers and the larger racing culture surrounding them. Nonetheless, it navigates a dense narrative with ease and provides compelling reasons to care about this fascinating, dangerous sport.