Four stars. Rating: R, for profanity, nudity, sexual content, brief drug use and disturbing images
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.27.13
Friends tell you what you want to hear. Enemies tell you what you need to know.
Director Ron Howard’s Rush isn’t merely the fact-based account of an intriguing sports rivalry; it’s also the most exciting auto racing movie to roar into theaters since 1971’s Le Mans ... which, given Steve McQueen’s passion for authenticity and the superb efforts of cinematographers René Guissart Jr. and Robert B. Hauser — not to mention a team of five (!) editors — is high praise indeed.
No matter. Howard’s collaborators — cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill — are up for the challenge. They’re also given a sensational assist by sound designers Danny Hambrook and Markus Stemler, whose ear-splitting attention to detail delivers everything except the pungent, eye-watering stench of high-octane fuel. Which you’ll probably imagine anyway.
But while the visceral exhilaration is palpable, it’s mere backdrop; this film gets its emotional heft from the fascinating narrative crafted by British scripter Peter Morgan, whose well-deserved Academy Award nominations for Frost/Nixon and The Queen — not to mention his work on The Last King of Scotland, The Damned United and quite a few others — demonstrate considerable skill when it comes to sketching characters through well-composed dialogue.
James Simon Wallis Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth), British to the core, and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) meet — and immediately clash — as ambitious Formula 3 drivers. They couldn’t be more different: Hunt is a womanizing, hedonistic toff who wears flamboyant aristocratic superiority like a cloak, while Lauda is solemn, remote and blunt to the point of insolence. Hunt is the pluperfect London playboy, Lauda the Teutonic precision; neither apologizes for his behavior, or would think of doing so.
Hunt loves the champagne-hazed thrill of victory, and is happiest when posing for photographs as he clutches an award. Lauda quite famously gave his trophies to a local garage, as “payment” for having his car washed and serviced.
But they both take racing seriously, albeit from different sensibilities. Hunt is as bold and reckless on the track as in real life, embracing the challenge for its romantic, death-defying aura; Lauda, meticulous to a fault, calculates odds and works them to his favor. Hunt relies on the largess of sponsors he can impress; Lauda drives mechanics crazy by ordering design changes ... which inevitably prove advantageous.
As a result, Morgan’s script focuses on the attitude of racing, as much as the sport itself. At a time when drivers were expected to die every season — as Brühl’s Lauda informs us, in his dryly ironic, off-camera narration — professional racers truly were a breed apart. (It could be argued that NASCAR, with its ever-safer vehicles and protective body gear, has stripped some of the rogue spirit from auto racing.)