Movie Review: Rush
Pros:The Formula One sequences are extremely realistic, the characters are flawed yet engaging, the ending is especially touching.
Cons:It occasionally feels very much like a Hollywood adaptation of a gritty tale, the screenplay could be a bit tighter.
A glitzy, proficient drama based on the rivalry between two real-life Formula One drivers from the same writer-director duo behind Frost/Nixon.
It’s difficult to assess Rush without comparing it to another Formula One-based movie, Senna. Asif Kapadia’s 2010 work about the exceptional Brazilian F1 driver who was idolised by millions and whose life was cut short after a tragic accident on the racetrack was that rare thing – a film that was as widely admired and critically lauded as it was commercially successful (at least, by documentary standards).
Yet Senna was never going to be the type of film that would win countless Academy Awards – it was too matter of fact and gritty, and most importantly of all, it lacked a happy ending. Indeed, it was received with such apathy in Hollywood that, rather shamefully, it failed to even make the shortlist for the Best Documentary category at the Oscars of the year it was released.
Rush, on the other hand, might just make an impact at the upcoming ceremony and consequently comes across, to an extent, as the anti-Senna (or, if you’re a sceptic, a cynical attempt to cash in on its success). It is after all, directed by Ron Howard, who has a somewhat controversial track record when it comes to biographical films.
Although Howard’s 2001 picture, A Beautiful Mind, ultimately secured the Best Picture Oscar, it also received criticism for appearing to take a watered-down look at the life of renowned mathematician John Nash, with critics claiming it ignored allegations of anti-Semitism and other unsavoury traits associated with its protagonist.
Rush, meanwhile, represents the second time Howard has teamed up with screenwriter Peter Morgan, with whom he previously made Frost/Nixon. And at first glance, given that it is set in the world of Formula One racing, Rush seems entirely different terrain to the duo’s previous collaboration. However, there are undoubtedly parallels between the two.
Like Frost/Nixon, Rush at its core is about an intense rivalry between two high-profile but troubled men. In this instance, James Hunt and Niki Lauda are competing to win the 1976 Formula One Championship. Though both are highly talented drivers, the similarities between them end there. Hunt is a playboy and a ladies man, who very much revels in the attention that his burgeoning fame grants him. Lauda, on the other hand, is a misanthropic, introverted car obsessive, who has little interest in the high life and glamour that Hunt seems to obsessively crave. Nevertheless, when Lauda almost loses his life following an accident on the track for which Hunt feels partially responsible, the two begin to develop a strained affinity for one another.
The film illustrates the type of excellent work an on-form Howard is capable of producing. Both characters’ personalities are evocatively captured, yet they initially appear to be cardboard cut-outs – Hunt comes across as the feckless, womanising hedonist, while Lauda looks to be the stereotypically uptight, ultra-disciplined German. But soon, their complexities become more pronounced, as Lauda begins to show his spikier, more emotional side and Hunt’s struggles with intimacy are revealed, consequently enabling the audience to care increasingly about the identity of each race’s winner, as their characteristics are fleshed out. Thus, at its best, Rush is both compelling and ultimately touching, replete with note perfect performances from its respective stars – Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl – who both assuredly capture the mannerisms of their respective characters, while looking fairly similar to them to boot.
It is not perfect by any means, of course. There are times when everything seems a little too neatly packaged and lacking in spontaneity. Essentially, it is occasionally all too apparent that it’s a Hollywood adaptation of an uplifting sports story. The scene where Lauda’s wife angrily insists to him that the car she is driving is in perfect condition, only for it to promptly stall due to the safety hazards that Lauda has tirelessly and presciently made reference to, feels straight out of the big book of movie clichés. Similarly, the screenplay does, at its worst, feel like it is performing a box-ticking exercise. It goes out of its way to establish how Hunt is such a playboy and how Lauda is the exact opposite, to the point of tedium. The former’s drinking and womanising does not need to be repeated so relentlessly to hammer the point home, and it could learn that a little nuance goes a long way.
Yet while it may occasionally seem all too dumbed down, it still manages to create engaging characters, while taking a refreshingly non-judgemental view of their sometimes questionable behaviour. The movie, for instance, never implies Hunt is foolish to adopt such a hedonistic lifestyle – instead, it is left for the viewer to decide what to make of his proclivity for excess. And equally importantly, the visceral, impressively shot race sequences are more or less guaranteed to set the pulses racing, so convincing is their execution.
Therefore ultimately, while Rush may indeed be the antithesis to Senna, it remains similarly well-realised in its own right, while being far more likely to have a big role in the upcoming awards season.