Ron Howard returns from making uninteresting films for the first time in almost a decade, and Rush is definitely one of the best efforts in his directing filmography. The film adapts the events of the 1976 Formula One season, focusing on the rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Over the course of the season, Lauda suffers severe burns in an accident before making his triumphant return to defend his title as world champion.
Writer Peter Morgan steps a little out of his comfort zone by not writing a film about Tony Blair, although Hunt still qualifies has an exceptional Briton. There is incredible drama built into the facts of the story, the kind of thing that if these were fictional events, we would criticize the lack of realism on the screen. Admirably Morgan refrains from piling on too much, though there are some extraneous scenes in the film dealing with Hunt’s (ex-)wife Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde).
My favorite aspect of the film is that it does not demonize Hunt or Lauda. It would have been all to easy to depict the brash, impulsive Hunt as a talented fluke, or Niki Lauda as so coolly calculating that he showed no emotion at all. Rush opts to show both men as having very different personalities and approaches to the sport, but it is left to the audience to decide if one is actually better than the other. Hemsworth has arguably the easier role to play, and Hunt isn’t so far removed from the spirit we saw in the first Thor film. Daniel Brühl is the true star of the film, however, and never fails to make Lauda a captivating presence.
The look of Rush elevates it above even other sports films. This is also a gorgeous film, and the scenes at the track are especially lush and vibrant. While I am sure there are computer generated cars used at various points in the film, the careful editing makes it impossible to detect, at least on the first viewing. I wouldn’t describe the editing and camera work as overly flashy, rather having just enough style to be noticeable and not distracting. Anthony Dod Mantle is the original digital cinematography wizard, and his eye for capturing the speed and power of cars is on par with that of the UK show Top Gear. We’ve come a long way from Days of Thunder.
Like Howard’s Apollo 13, Rush completely delivers. Knowing the outcome of real-life events does nothing to lessen the impact of the film. Highly watchable and exciting, Rush is the perfect blend of racing and character, of man and machine.
Rush opens today in Philly area theaters.