Rush (Ron Howard, 2013)
If I write that I could care less about all forms of car racing – and have no idea how Formula One differs from Nascar or the Indy 500 circuit (seriously, I don’t, and don’t care to) – I really mean that I could care less about all forms of car racing. True, I once drove a BMW at 120mph on a highway designed for 60, and thought that was terrific fun (I was 20), but I have never found any of the fossil-fuel burning “sports” at all interesting. And yet . . . I thoroughly enjoyed Rush, Ron Howard’s superb and surprisingly energetic new film. Usually, Howard’s films have all the pep and narrative complexity of a soap opera, but here he seems to have gotten tired of his usual brand of storytelling and is trying something now. Perhaps he just got bored and wanted to relive the good old days, back when he made his first feature, Grand Theft Auto. Whatever his reasons, let us be grateful, for Rush is a highly entertaining thrill ride.
Back in the 1970s, two Formula One (a form of car racing much more popular in Europe than in the US) competitors, the Englishman James Hunt and the Austrian Niki Lauda, livened up the “sport” (OK, I’ll stop putting that word in quotes now) with their intense rivalry. Lauda won in 1975, and in 1976 . . . well, let’s let you watch the film to see what happens. No fair googling it. Hunt was the playboy and party lover, while Lauda was the socially awkward and abrasive techno-nerd. Played by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, respectively, the differences between the two men, and their growing mutual respect, make for fascinating drama. Each actor delves into the skin of the men they inhabit with great skill and commitment, and watching their interplay is even more fun than watching the cars whiz by (in spite of the frenetic efforts of acclaimed cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, an Oscar-winner for Slumdog Millionaire). Especially interesting, for me, was realizing after 10 minutes how strange it was to be watching a Ron Howard film with so much sex, drugs, and booze, as well as such a vibrant color palette (this is, in fact, the first digitally-shot feature that Howard has made – hence his use of Mantle).
Howard has always been good with actors, and here he has assembled a strong cast with nary a bad performance. From the two leads, to the women who play their wives – Olivia Wilde and Hollywood (relative) newcomer Alexandra Maria Lara – down to supporting players like Christian McKay and Perfrancesco Favino (last seen in the zombie-ravaged WHO building in World War Z), the film’s universe is richly imagined. Everyone feels real, and we feel the danger in the lives of these drivers.
I therefore highly recommend it, with but one caveat. At one point in the film, there is an extended sequence where an injured racer has his burned lungs vacuumed of excess fluid. If you’re prone to gagging at the Dentist’s (I am), you’ll just need to look away (and maybe cover your ears). Other than that, enjoy!