Movie Review: Rush
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
A smart friend of mine once opined that the best metric for measuring the efficacy of a racing film, or a movie with car chases at all, was the degree to which it made you want to peel out of the parking lot and break a whole mess of traffic laws on the way home.
I remain astonished I wasn’t pulled over a good three or four times on my way back to the office after seeing Ron Howard’s immensely entertaining “Rush,” which chronicles the rivalry between two Formula One race drivers, the British James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and the Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) over the course, more or less, of the legendary 1976 F1 season.
As befits a Hollywood movie, the two couldn’t be less alike. Hemsworth, he of the thousand-watt smile and killer abs, isn’t playing a guy too far away from his most famous role, Thor. Both have long blond hair, both love women and drink, both are from royal (or very wealthy) families, and both know from the power of thunder, be it cast from the heavens or from a Formula One engine.
Hunt knows that cheating death is what attracts the ladies, even if driving in circles at 170 mph in “a little coffin … a bomb on wheels” is pretty stupid.
But he is also the sort of guy who wears a patch on his red jumpsuit that says “Sex: Breakfast of Champions.” In the words of Viv Savage in “Spinal Tap,” Hunt knew how to “have a good time all the time.”
Lauda, whom Brühl plays with a cold, savvy intelligence, had to extricate himself from his wealthy family in order to drive.
He took out a loan to buy into a struggling F1 team, then rebuilt the car to his specifications and demanded to drive it, eventually getting hired by Ferrari, the New York Yankees of F1 teams.
Lauda is a born engineer and a humorless, methodical driver. “God gave me an OK mind,” he says to his future wife, “but an ass which can feel everything in the car,” and no, he doesn’t think that’s a pickup line. There’s little evidence that Lauda knows what a pickup line is.
As Lauda says on his honeymoon, of all places, “Happiness is the enemy. It weakens you.” Readers, you may insert your own German joke here.
Hunt cannot understand why Lauda can’t loosen up, and Lauda can’t understand why Hunt fools around all the time. Hunt really doesn’t seem to care about his life that much, while Lauda is a relentless calculator of risk.
And no, they are not secretly friends. They pretty well can’t stand each other, which isn’t the same as not needing each other on the track, nor is it the same as not respecting the other’s skill.
Sure, the relationship sounds cliched and obvious, but it is fun to watch. When one of them experiences a famously hideous crash (you can Google it, and racing nerds know this stuff cold, but try to resist the urge), the balance of the movie deftly unpacks how both of them deal with the loss of his closest rival and what it means for the rest of the season.
(Speaking of racing nerds, the one in my office noted that Hunt was actually a bit looser in real life than Hemsworth can completely pull off, but that Brühl has Lauda down cold.)
The racing scenes themselves are a blast, moving between the driver’s point of view and sharp wider shots, even if the same tracks show up over and over. “Rush” was fun on a regular screen, but one imagines it benefits greatly from being seen in IMAX.
The biggest problem with “Rush” is there are two or three movies competing for screen time. There’s the rivalry between Hunt and Lauda, between the self-indulgent party animal and the merciless technocrat. There’s the love story between the two couples. Olivia Wilde plays Hunt’s model wife Suzy, and Alexandra Maria Lara does a bang-up job as Mrs. Lauda, though neither part is what you’d call well-developed.
And there’s the story of the 1976 season itself, with all of its odd twists and turns (so to speak), from aging, unsafe tracks to brutal weather to a crash that was about as bad as it could get without the driver actually dying.
But for the most part, Howard gives an epic, swinging story an appropriately epic, swinging treatment. You will likely race home afterward.