Director Ron Howard has been responsible for some inspiring stories (and some not so inspiring ones). Two of the director's best films, Backdraft and Apollo 13 dealt with dangerous jobs and the people that work those jobs whose lives are put on the line every day. The success of those films was a fine balance of acting talent and a wise decision to never make the film about the job, but instead focus on the people who work it.
If his new film Rush is anything to go by, Howard really needs to stick to that formula because this is his best film in nearly a decade. Instead of Astronauts or Firefighters, this time he tackles the dangerous world of Formula 1 race car driving. Filled with outstanding performances, specifically from its two leads, breathtaking racing sequences and some real emotional turmoil, Rush is one of this years biggest surprises. Read the full review after the break.
Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Landmark 12 West L.A.
Time: 7:15 pm, Sept. 23 2013
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 2 hr 3 min
Loves: Inspiring true stories that don't feel manipulative
Likes: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wild
Neutral: Ron Howard movies
Hates: That this movie kind of makes me like Ron Howard a little more
What I learned from Rush: Race car drivers are CRAZY!!!
Exiled from their wealthy families, both without equal in the driver's seat and fueled by a bitter rivalry that lasted a decade, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) found themselves pushed to the brink every time they met on the race track risking their lives while also finding remarkable inner strength to overcome countless obstacles in an attempt to best one another. Driven with plenty of fear and little regret, nothing could stop these two men as each raced towards becoming the Formula 1 World Champion.
Don't worry if you find yourself at a loss for who James Hunt and Niki Lauda are, because you aren't alone. While most of the time Hollywood seems intent on delivering true stories about people we know all too well from history, the best stories however often come from the lives of those we have never heard of before, but who accomplished miracluous feats nonetheless.
The rivalry between Hunt and Lauda, known as the "racing grudge match of the decade" during the 1970's, is one of those stories that inspires while also calling into question the mentality of those select few who not only have the ability to race in such a sport as Formula 1, but do so knowing they have a 20% chance of dying each time they get behind the wheel. That is the film's (and Howard's) triumph with Rush, how it depicts these two mighty egos and how their fates became intertwined due to their shared love for the sport as well as how their many successes were a direct result of their battles both on and off the track.
This isn't some cookie cutter rivalry though, they don't hate each other because of some difference of opinion, in fact they really don't hate each other at all. They are frustrated by each others talent, Hunt being a more daring driver and winning because of his recklessness bothers Lauda, who himself is an expert at car mechanics and extremely aware of the percentages when it comes to risk versus reward. Their passion for the sport was there well before the met each other, but it was their competitive nature towards one another that gave them the extra fire to push through odds and obstacles that would crush more stable minded men.
In many ways both men are exactly alike, which only furthers their need to best the other. Not just on the race track either, but in their personal lives. This may come as somewhat of a surprise for those thinking this movie is just about racing, but the best parts of the film actually take place off the race track. Watching these two guys circle tracks for 70+ laps may sound exciting to some of you out there, but unless we are invested in who is in those cars, it would amount to nothing more than a sleek car commercial.
Seeing their struggles to reach their individual goals helps create some real tension and drama on that race track. Watching Lauda tell his soon-to-be wife (Alexandra Maria Lara) that he has real fears of falling in love simply because it may effect his performance on the track is as shocking to hear as it is easy to understand. Hunt's story would be even more tragic with his rocky marriage to his model wife (Olivia Wilde) if not for the fact that he prefers to live the life of a playboy and could care less about building a family, despite the many pleas from his friends and loved ones.
Howard uses their personal turmoils masterfully to build up the tension between Hunt and Lauda. Each time the two men engage each other the true potential of the film reveals itself to us as we watch as Hunt constantly tries to provoke Lauda by attacking his honor and the fact that he has no friends, then watching Lauda counterattack Hunt by reminding him that he only ever wins by bending the rules or whenever Lauda isn't in the race. If you like yourself a good debate where both sides are each others intellectual equel, then you will no doubt enjoy every minute of their confrontations.
Much of the success of this feud comes from the actors though. Chris Hemsworth is quickly proving himself to be a more than capable actor and his portrayal of James Hunt is his best work to date. His good looks mixed with that stereotypical jock mentality perfectly encapsulates the reckless nature of Hunt's racing style and his penchant for the ladies. Hemsworth's natural bravado also shines through to give Hunt a much more imposing stature over Bruhl's more mousy appearance.
Although Hemsworth is being presented as the star of the film, Daniel Bruhl steals the show from him in nearly every way. That's not meant to knock Hemsworth, it's just that the character of Niki Lauda is so much more interesting. He isn't your average driver, which was the problem a lot of his fellow racers had with him. He brought logic to a sport that required very little beyond strapping yourself in and hoping for the best.
Bruhl is fascinating to watch as he teases and taunts Hunt and even more so when we begin to see the struggle forming within him. Lauda's greatest failing was also his greatest success, which as getting caught up in this rivalry with Hunt. He let down his guard and put logic aside near the end which had repercussions beyond anyones expectations, but it also leads to the high water mark for the film emotionally when we see a beaten and tattered Niki Lauda re-enter the championship race in a condition that would destroy most men's ego and their ambitions. It's not too far off the mark to say that Bruhl could get a nomination come awards time next year.
Howard knows that without getting to know and becoming invested in their lives that the race scenes would simply feel empty. By simply allowing us to become emotionally invested in their lives, those race scenes take on a whole new meaning and instead of sitting there watching these cars circle a track several times, we are watching two people we have come to care about and respect risk their lives in a final showdown that seems completely pointless given the risks at hand, but also something we understand must happen.
Howard even throws a few twists and turns in there that quite honestly were a bit shocking for what amounts to the films big finale. Who knows if what transpires during that final race actually happened, but it certainly made for a very pleasant surprise and most importantly, was in keeping with each character's true motivations for being on that race track in the first place. This is how you making a race car movie folks, right here.
As astounding as this may seem, there wasn't really any negative aspects to the film that jumped out. Perhaps it was a bit longer than it needed to be, after Lauda's triumphant return the film sort of peaks emotionally at that point despite there being about another 30 minutes left in the film leaving you wondering where it will decide to end their story. The women in the lives of both Hunt and Lauda are there mostly as window dressing, which given what Lauda's wife was put through, it would have been nice to know her a bit better than we ultimately did.
But that's it really, take all that with a grain of salt because those aren't exactly problems as they are areas that could have used a bit more time. As it is right now though, Rush is pure adrenaline fueled by a grudge match the likes of which are rarely ever seen in any facet of life. Meeting, understanding and seeing two individuals powered by their frustrations to win at all costs does in fact make the sport they are participating a bit more exciting than usual and the same can be said for Ron Howard's film. If not for the fantastic performances and the history behind Hunt and Lauda's grudge match, this would have just been another movie with cars going fast, which thankfully it is not.
It may not give you a new found respect for the sport, but it will likely give you a reason to cheer on the two racers as they forge a path to ultimate victory. Their rivalry may have started out as a typical grudge match, but by the end they found that they actually depended on that rivalry as motivation to keep in peak performance, and that is what Howard has captured so masterfully, their complex need always be right behind the other to keep pushing them forward. Rush is easily one of the most riveting, emotionally exhausting and exhilirating experiences you are likely to have in the theater all year.