|Review by Caitlyn Thompson|
Ron Howard has given us something new in Rush, an astonishing sports drama that is filled with passion and respect.
Every scene is a genuine portrayal of interactions between two completely opposing minds and bodies that culminates into one of the most honorable and respectful battle I’ve seen in a film of this genre.
Together with writer, Peter Morgan, they recount the famous rivalry of Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the 1970’s Formula One racing seasons.
The two men are intimidating in the most opposing ways imaginable and their success is rooted in needing to defeat their greatest competition, each other. With the exception of a few brief soft (euphemism for corny) moments, the presentation of these adversaries is authentic and balanced between intense action sequences and emotional inner-speculation.
In sports films there is usually a clear distinction between good and evil, underdog and villain. This is not so in Rush.
Howard and Morgan together deserve this credit in their fantastic, witty and intelligent dialogue (and narration), embedded among extreme close ups, differing lifestyle tones and blurred panning around tracks. We are brought closely into the minds of two athletes that are complete opposites and equally loveable and loathsome throughout the story.
Chris Hemsworth, most famous for his role as thunder god, Thor, shows us that there is deliberate and tactful talent behind his beautiful body. His character is rich with routine and ritual in such an untraditional way (drinking, smoking, sex), and Hemsworth delivery of that charm, arrogant bravery, and devotion towards racing is remarkable.
Niki Lauda, played excellently by Daniel Bruhl, is a no-nonsense tactical mastermind who is impenetrable to bullying and empty lavish. Bruhl brings seriousness, dedication and a strictly business attitude that is so vivid it’s piercing and abrupt. You never feel sorry for him when he’s nicknamed “Rat” or taunted by Hunt’s bachelor ways. Bruhl holds his own quite resiliently next to Hemsworth, which speaks wonders to the actors’ chemistry in this production.
Lauda and Hunt are presented as equally admirable however brutish or arrogant they act. There wasn’t a time where I felt it necessary to be rooting for one over the other. The ultimate achievement of Rush lies in that desire for the longevity of the characters’ rivalry, not for one to beat the other.
Their competition is based in the most raw form of pride and reverence for the treacherous sport of racing. They are fuel for each other. And there isn’t a moment where that fact becomes dishonorable.
The only distinguishable “villain” is the ego of these men and how they succumb to or defeat it. But only they are allowed to taunt and bate each other. In that way their rivalry evolves over the years into a strong camaraderie.
A beautiful moment occurs when Hunt pummels a reporter after the man makes insensitive remarks about Lauda’s burns and marriage. It’s a brief and brutal scene but immensely powerful and telling of Hunt’s character and breadth of respect for his rival.
Similarly powerful and revealing, after Lauda’s near-fatal accident, Niki fully admits that Hunt was largely responsible for his injuries, but also equally if not more so responsible for his recovery.
The men needed to be the best and could only beat one another for that true title. The mutual respect is subtle yet incredibly powerful.
Even when the characters are resentful, mean, or envious, it’s rooted in such respect for one another. Neither can comprehend the other but they mutually honor their ability to drive, and drive the best.
Their surrounding cast is just that, surrounding, adding bits of humor or pushback to the main characters. Olivia Wilde, as Hunt’s brief wife, Suzy Miller, is beautiful and cold. Her presence is remarkably subtle and threatens Hunt’s ego in a different way than Lauda. Her role compliments and expands Hunt’s neurosis and character.
Alexandra Maria Lara could have had a stronger presentation as Lauda’s wife, Marlene. Her worried looks and his devotion to her were the weakest point in the film. However, Lauda doesn’t break, he simply acknowledges love as a weakness. But I wish we could have seen him express that love a bit more.
As a viewer who has never seen a racecar event I feared the racing scenes would become daunting but it isn’t so much about the race itself so much as the inner-drive of the driver.
Kudos to Ron Howard for presenting a different kind of sports movie. It really was about these individual athletes, a close study of the differing functions of a similar, complex genius.