Movie Review | Ron Howard’s ‘Rush’ thrills despite minor shortcomings
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 08:10
When you think of a Ron Howard film, “sleek” and “fast paced” usually aren’t the first words that come to mind. After
all, many of the films that the Academy Award winner has directed throughout his career are mature and thoughtful works, like the excellent “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) and “Frost/Nixon” (2008). But Howard’s latest film is somewhat of a departure from these previous works. A fast-paced racing film, “Rush” depicts a heated rivalry between two Formula One drivers in the 1970s. Working off a script by Oscar nominee Peter Morgan (2006’s “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon”), “Rush” doesn’t quite live up to the earlier works of its creators and may be lacking in nuance. Nonetheless, it is an engaging thrill ride with strong performances by its two leads.
“Rush” portrays the long-lasting and bitter rivalry between two of the world’s top Formula One drivers, British driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), as they compete for the title of World Champion in the 1976 season. Having ignited their feud years earlier in the Formula Three circuit, the competition between the two is painted as a battle of wills and clashing ideologies. Lauda is calculating and ambitious, using his mechanical knowledge to upgrade his vehicle and relying on precision to win races. Meanwhile, Hunt is the charismatic risk taker, winning races on recklessness and chancy maneuvers. The two drivers continue to be at odds as they progress through various Grand Prix in the season, and the gap in standings between the two becomes increasingly narrow as they approach the finish.
While the plot seems fairly typical of a sports or racing movie, “Rush” distinguishes itself by focusing on drama away from the race track. This ends up as both a strength and weakness of the film. The heart of “Rush” lies in the psychological underpinnings of the rivalry between its two leads, and this tension spills over into the personal lives of its protagonists. For both Hunt and Lauda, the championship race and its consequences gradually consume their lives, and it is the exploration of this territory that makes “Rush” so fascinating.
However, the film merely scratches the surface of a major question: What makes these two characters tick? If the script contained more character development, the story would be infinitely more compelling. Though much of the film attempts to explore the psyches of Hunt and Lauda, for the most part, they remain broadly defined characters: Hunt is charismatic, popular and cocky, while Lauda is calm and collected but socially awkward. The main shortcoming of “Rush” is the squandered potential in analyzing these men more completely, since both Hemsworth and Brliver delivered strong performances considering the material they were working with. Another script issue is that some of the supporting characters are extremely underwritten. For instance, Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s wife, Suzy Miller, appears in only a handful of scenes and serves more as a plot device rather than a fully realized character.
Despite some stumbles with the off-track action, “Rush” truly soars when it comes to the races, which end up stealing the show. Howard displays an impressive level of skill and creativity in framing the races, making each one a gripping and pulse-pounding affair that never lets up momentum. Thanks to a variety of dynamic camera angles and excellent editing, Howard and cinematographer Antony Dod Mantle give the audience the sensation of truly feeling like they’re behind the wheel with these characters. Even for the racing alone, “Rush” is worth a viewing.
While “Rush” is not perfect, it’s still an overall success for Howard. The rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda is thoroughly engaging, and the thrilling races and strong performances by its two leads more than make up for any shortcomings the movie has.