Review by: Jarrett Leahy
“25 drivers start every season in Formula One, and each year, two of us die.” That opening line hit me like a sack of bricks. I can think of no better quote to remind the viewer just how real the inherent dangers are in a sport such as Formula One racing. Race car drivers are so skilled at the job they do week in and week out that sometimes we forget there is not a moment spent on the track where they are one mistake away from disaster. Though still extremely popular internationally, Formula One’s heyday has long since passed in the U.S., replaced by the ever-growing juggernaut that is NASCAR. So when news came that Academy award winning director Ron Howard was staking his reputation on creating a story involving a rivalry from the 1970’s, I was a bit perplexed. This is not the first time a film of this nature have been made. Among the many failed attempts of the past, two in particular came to mind. In 1977 director Syndey Pollack and Al Pacino teamed up to make Bobby Deerfield, a forgettable romantic drama about an American driver who falls in love while racing in Europe. In 2001 Sylvester Stallone’s racing drama Driven was panned by critics, with Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post calling it “embarrassingly bad.” So, why would this one fair any better?
Based on a true story, Rush tells of the intense on-track rivalry been two Formula One drivers as they both vie for the 1976 season long championship. What sets this story apart from similar ones told before are the performances from the two leads. Chris Hemsworth is the obvious box office star of the film, playing the almost stereotypical pretty boy James Hunt. Hunt’s driving style is aggressive, taking chances and pushing the limits of his race car in order to succeed. However that same risk taking that aids in Hunt being a success on the track causes him to live life dangerously off it. An addiction to the celebrity lifestyle and the perks that come with it, most notably sex, booze and dope cause racing owners to see him as a liability. The jury is still out on the true acting talents of Hemsworth, but with a dashing smile along with an overflow of charm and sexual bravado, there’s little doubt he is perfectly cast for this role.
Even more impressive is Daniel Bruhl’s portrayal of Niki Lauda, an antisocial, self driven outcast who uses his knowledge for car modifications to help move quickly up in the sport. Bruhl is a German actor who first splashed on the scene in the touching 2003 foreign drama, Good Bye Lenin! American audiences were then formally introduced to Bruhl in 2009 when he was cast in Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist WWII action drama, Inglourious Basterds. Despite being a relative unknown, Bruhl adeptly held his own, exuding the spot-on sleaziness of the overconfident Nazi war hero Frederick Zoller. Now four years later, Bruhl is once again displaying his impressive acting range, perfectly embodying Lauda’s single mindedness to succeed. Socially awkward on a good day, a real a-hole on a bad one, it is a testament to Bruhl’s commitment to the role that he isn’t afraid to be the disliked character of this film.
If left in the hands of a less talented director, a movie of this nature could run the risk of being too schmaltzy. However, Ron Howard does an excellent job convincing the viewer to truly care about well being of these two men without having to lay it on too thick. The cinematography used to capture the racing action is top notch, giving the viewer a front seat view of what a driver experiences during competition. In the cutthroat world of auto racing, happiness off the track can at times be seen as the enemy. Fear of having something or someone to lose can put doubts in a driver’s mind. One of the repeating themes explored through out the film is the difficulty that comes with trying to balance these on and off the track commitments.
It’s not very often a filmmaker has the opportunity to create a movie that can be considered the best of its genre. For decades studios have been trying to truly capture on film the adrenaline fulled terror that race car driving offers. Examining the past successes, or lack there of, of previous racing movies, I feel pretty confident in saying that Rush has a legitimate claim to the title of the greatest car racing film to date.-JL
What is director Ron Howard’s best film? Vote Here
(Rush was just recently released on dvd/bluray and can be found in your local Redbox machine)