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Rush Review: Ron Howard Shows What he does Best

The true story of the rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda and the 1976 Formula One season is one of those stories where true life is more extraordinary then fiction. Fortunately two men with great experience at adapting true life stories, Ron Howard and Peter Morgan, have taken this project on, giving us a movie that is about a clash of ideals and personalities as well as about the drive of motor sports.

James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) are racing drivers with different approaches and philosophies whose rivalry starts in Formula Three racing. Hunt is a good looking playboy who enjoys drinking, partying and sex and has charisma to boot. Lauda is a serious minded, extremely determined, technically astute and is able to get the most out of a car, but is a cold, distant man who drives people away. Soon the men’s rivalry see them battling it out in Formula One leading to the 1976 season where back-stabbing, danger and disaster affects the sport.

As a sports movie Rush is a very well made and entertaining film that focuses on its characters ideals and differences. Hemsworth and Brühl are in top form as they play these very different men. Lauda is a self-determined man who is willing to risk everything to get into F1, but easily rubs people the wrong way, whilst Hunt had a greater support network, media friendly but is a loose cannon. Both end up becoming each other’s hubris as they take bigger risks in a sport that already dangerous.

As well as the focus of their profession, Rush looks at the personal lifestyles of the two drivers, particularly Hunt’s as he womanizes as Lauda settles down with a woman. Hunt is a thrill seeker who uses pure talent whilst Lauda is aware of the risks of his profession, but does not want to add to them.

To anyone who knows about Niki Lauda is he suffers a tragedy and the easy route would have been to make Rocky style picture about someone overcoming adversity. Fortunately, Howard and Morgan made something more interesting by showing both men to be faulted, that Lauda is not a man who is easy to like, making personal digs against and being a very sore loser.

At a running of two hours, three minutes, Rush moves along at a very brisk pace. The first 40 to 45 minutes focuses on a six year period as the rivalry builds up. Many story elements are dealt with quickly. A great example of this is when Hunt meets model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde, who does an impressive English accent) in the team garages and the next scene is them getting married. Rush is a movie that tackles many story elements with broad brushstrokes. It does seem like a longer cut may exist.

Even though the film is called Rush, Howard and Morgan build up to the racing segments. We get a F3 race near the beginning and then we have a long wait the F1 races. Howard and Morgan focus on three main races in the 1976 season, Nürburgring, Germany, Monza, Italy and Fuji, Japan. Howard shows his technical acumen with the racing sequences, as we get up close to the action on screen with camera being place many on the parts of the cars, in the driving seat and even in the engine and in the air gun during a tyre change. There are intense, exciting sequences as Howard uses stylistic flashes and slo-mo as we see how dangerous races were in the 70s. Morgan also uses a similar montage trick he used in The Damned United to quickly build a picture of the ’76 season with Howard using title cards to the sequence a bit of flash.

The story about James Hunt or Niki Lauda could have made for a compelling movie on their own terms, but Howard and Morgan give us two films in one. Rush is a very well-made, engaging and compelling sports flick that is character driven and is about the build-up as well as the racing.

Rating
8.0

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