September 3, 2013 at 9:10 am #110778
Add another real contender for top categories that wasn’t that high of most people’s radar:
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Mozart vs. Salieri. Kennedy vs. Khrushchev. Gates vs. Jobs. Add to that list of epic clashes Formula 1 adversaries James Hunt and Niki Lauda, whose larger-than-life bout for the 1976 world championship title fuels Ron Howard’s exhilarating “Rush” — not just one of the great racing movies of all time, but a virtuoso feat of filmmaking in its own right, elevated by two of the year’s most compelling performances. It’s high-octane entertainment that demands to be seen on the bigscreen, assembled for grown-ups and executed in such a way as to enthrall even those who’ve never watched a race in their life.
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With the film opening opposite “Prisoners” on Sept. 20, audience skepticism could give “Rush” a slow start in theaters, as folks question why they should care about such a subject — or wonder what Howard, who has spent the past decade churning out respectable middle-brow entertainments, can bring to the material. But if Universal gives word of mouth a chance to build (screening the film at the Deauville and Toronto film festivals is a good start), they should have a huge worldwide phenomenon on their hands.
The hook couldn’t be simpler: “Rush” pits two personalities from opposite ends of the spectrum against one another in a sport where the stakes are no less than life and death. An Austrian with an innate gift for racing but no sense when it comes to social interaction, Lauda (as played by “Good Bye Lenin’s” Daniel Bruhl) is the pragmatist to Hunt’s British playboy. Already plenty dashing in real life, bad-boy Hunt proves even more irresistible in the hands of “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth, who makes Hunt’s driving look like the least reckless thing about him.
Whereas Hollywood screenwriters tend to give us clear-cut heroes and villains, real life deals in far more ambiguous rivalries, and Peter Morgan’s script manages to deliver complicated personalities with elegance and efficiency, relying on these two fine actors to flesh them out onscreen. The two racers meet in the lower divisions, where Hunt sparks a deep animosity with Lauda by pulling a risky move that could have gotten them both killed. However irresistible the call of glory, “Rush” makes clear the potential cost of ego by depicting an accident early on: The car has smashed through a barrier and the driver is nowhere to be seen, replaced by an ugly smear running down the length of the hood.
“Twenty-five people start Formula 1, and each year, two die. What kind of person does a job like this?” asks Lauda at the outset. Those who know what happens to Lauda can appreciate the gravity of his question, which perfectly conveys the edge-of-your-seat incredulity with which sane, feet-on-the-ground types watch such races. Nothing could be worth putting oneself in such danger, even in ideal driving conditions, and yet, the visceral thrill is undeniable — and the mere presence of a worthy adversary enough to push great racers to peak performance.
Modern audiences have been conditioned by the sheer volume of bad screenwriting they encounter day in, day out to be wary of scripts that articulate their own themes as eloquently as humanly possible. “Rush” is such a film, a rare thing where every utterance is “on the nose,” and yet so perfectly calibrated, it would be a crime to force the characters to bury their thematic concerns in subtext. Who needs inane reality-show naturalism when you can have life-and-death philosophy delivered at 200 miles per hour?
As Hunt cavalierly describes his car (in Morgan’s words, of course), “It’s just a little coffin, really, surrounded by high-octane fuel all around — for all intents and purposes, it’s a bomb on wheels.” No wonder the ladies find him so damned sexy: Every time at the wheel could be his last. Even Lauda, with his pinched-in cheeks and rat-like face, has spent more time on the brink of death than any sane mortal hopes to experience in a lifetime. Hunt seems to view the time between races as bonus rounds, to be lived to the fullest, and the movie doesn’t shy away from depicting his R-rated habits — or the streak of spontaneous romanticism that inspires him to propose to model Suzy Miller within moments of meeting, condensed from a courtship of several weeks in real life. (As Miller, Olivia Wild makes a strong enough impression one can’t help but envy Hunt’s chutzpah.)
“Rush” works so well because Lauda embodies everything Hunt isn’t, and though he too has the good fortune of meeting and marrying a compatible woman (Alexandra Maria Lara) during the 1976 season, their relationship signifies something safer, more calculated and built to endure. Both racers buy their way into Formula 1, where Lauda engineers a faster car, but Hunt embodies the reckless spirit audiences have come to love. It would be too easy to paint the Germanic pragmatist as the villain here, but the film is more balanced than that. It’s as if two completely antithetical philosophies are on the line, and the only way to settle the dispute is on the track.
The thrill of “Rush” would stall if the off-road scenes were any less dynamic, but of course, it’s the racing moments that take the film to the next level. Howard seizes the opportunity to innovate in these sequences, denying the boredom inherent in watching fast cars zip round and around the same track, and integrating compact digital cameras directly into the automotive machinery itself. He takes audiences places that human eyes could never fit as the cars hurtle forward at top speed, pioneering an intuitive visual logic that flows from the stands to the cars to the subjective perspective of the racers themselves — never more frightening than during the climactic Mount Fuji Circuit race, where rain reduces visibility and the drivers may as well be steering by “the Force.”
Though “Rush” extends across the duration of Hunt and Lauda’s hyper-competitive 1976 season, no two races resemble one another, as Howard and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill find ways to condense an astounding amount of story into a hyper-efficient 123-minute running time. Another filmmaker might have made it shorter still, and yet, Howard recognizes the vitality of every moment, how any sacrifice would diminish what makes these two characters so relatably human. Meanwhile, the racing footage is white-knuckle stuff, even — or perhaps especially — when one of them is out for the count, watching on TV while he has his lungs vacuumed in hospital.
To witness this level of storytelling skill (applied to a subject only a fraction of the public inherently finds interesting) is to marvel at not only what cinema can do when image, sound and score are so artfully combined to suggest vicarious experience, but also to realize how far Howard has come since his directorial debut, 1977’s bang-up “Grand Theft Auto.” The technique is so cutting-edge, it’s impossible to tell where the practical photography ends and visual effects begin — and besides, the two leading men are so enthralling, audiences’ minds have little time to drift away from the human-interest story at its core.
Too often in the intervening years, Howard has played it safe, but here, his choices are anything but obvious. He embraces the power of music to heighten the experience, but goes the opposite direction that one might expect with it, using Hans Zimmer’s cello-driven score to steer things to a deeper place. The same goes for the story itself: Who else would have imagined Formula 1 as an appropriate conduit for existential self-examination? And yet, you’ve seldom felt more alive in a movie theater than you will experiencing “Rush.”September 3, 2013 at 9:13 am #110780
Rush: Film Review
8:57 AM PDT 9/3/2013 by Todd McCarthy
The Bottom Line
The lead actors shine in an engaging look at the two fierce rivals who battled it out for the Formula 1 championship in 1976.
Toronto Film Festival
September 20 (in U.S.) (Universal)
Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino, David Calder, Natalie Dormer, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Alistair Petrie
Ron Howard returns to his high-speed roots to explore the 1970s Formula 1 rivalry between Chris Hemsworth’s James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl’s Niki Lauda.
Ron Howard returns to the high-speed roots of his directorial debut, Grand Theft Auto (albeit with a budget probably a hundred times bigger), with Rush, an involving Formula 1 racing drama centered on the nasty mid-‘70s rivalry between two drivers who couldn’t have been more dissimilar. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl excel as, respectively, British wild man and hedonist James Hunt and Austrian by-the-books tactician Niki Lauda. Limited American interest in European Formula 1 means Universal won’t be seeing anything resembling Fast & Furious business at the box office, but international returns could be very substantial.
Most modern-era car racing movies, from Grand Prix and Le Mans to Days of Thunder, have been far stronger at portraying the excitement on the track than at developing interesting downtime drama among the characters. But rather the reverse is true with Rush, which offers perfectly coherent racing coverage but devotes far more time to exploring the personalities of two drivers who represented behavioral polar extremes and drove each other to distraction.
It’s a credit to Peter Morgan’s screenplay that one can come to understand and sympathize with both of them, even though there are many reasons one might not easily warm to either one. Just as young ladies threw themselves at the great-looking Hunt literally by the thousands (one line describes his sexual prowess as “immortal”), female viewers might be persuaded to attend a racing film simply because of Chris Hemsworth, who looks fantastic with his long blond locks and ready smile and has finally found a role he can really score with in every sense of the word.
His looks and devil-may-care attitude aside (at one point he ventures that women like race car drivers because of “our closeness to death”), Hunt is the kind of figure who dares you to take him seriously; he stays up all night before races, never abstains from sex and is seen taking swigs of booze right before races. Purists and the more serious-minded are bound to disapprove of this guy, as they did in real life.
Offering a 180-degree contrast is Lauda, who comes from a conservative Viennese background but defies his family by taking up racing. He buys his way onto teams and is meticulous about engine specs and team discipline. An all-work and no-play guy, he cares nothing for ingratiating himself with his team members, and his abrupt marriage proposal to the pragmatic and supportive Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), formerly a girlfriend of film star Curt Jurgens, feels more like a business venture than a love match.
Physically, Hunt taunts Lauda as “my ratty little friend,” and with pasty brown face and protruding teeth, the Austrian, awfully well played by Daniel Bruhl, really does resemble a rodent. He’s a chilly character, for sure, brusque and officious; as the guy who will be behind the wheel, he’s not asking for love from his Ferrari team, just maximum effort to put him in a position to win the F1 championship, which he does in 1975.
With his former team falling apart, Hunt, who has married high maintenance blond beauty Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), is desperate to do “whatever it takes to beat that prick,” ultimately hitching on with McLaren despite their wariness over his erratic reputation. Presenting atmospheric snippets of the 1976 season’s early races in Sao Paulo, South Africa, Spain and Monaco the film creates an impressionistic rather than dramatic picture of a racing season that sees Lauda jump ahead in points.
Morgan develops a dovetailing emotional dynamic between the drivers when, after rubbing it in with Hunt that his wife has left him for actor Richard Burton, Lauda finally marries Marlene, only to find that happiness seems to be a detriment to his driving success. By contrast, Hunt’s edgy turbulence in the wake of his very public embarrassment eggs him on to drive faster.
The turning point comes at the Nurburgring track in Germany, aka The Graveyard, notorious as the most dangerous course on the F1 circuit. The rainy conditions compel Lauda to propose cancelling the race, but Hunt leads the move to vote it down. Sure enough, the meticulous Lauda then has a terrible accident; he’s stuck in his burning car for more than a minute and suffers terrible burns to his head and lungs.
The recovery, shown in more than sufficient detail, is terribly painful; his lungs must be vacuumed, and trying to put a helmet is purest torture. Lauda both blames Hunt for the accident and credits him for motivating to get back on the track an amazing 42 days later, but not before Hunt pummels a tasteless journalist who asks Lauda at a press conference if he thinks his wife will stay with him now that he looks so bad.
In Lauda’s absence, Hunt has made up a lot of points, but the Austrian puts on an amazing display, so that the championship will be determined in the final race of the season, in Japan within view of Mount Fuji–and in heavy rain.
In the wake of the season, the two men remain at odds—they are far too different and too competitive to ever be friends—but they do understand each other in a way that perhaps only fellow professionals can. We’ve never gotten particularly close to these very distinct personalities, but they’re interesting and lively company for the two hours they’re onscreen due to the sharply etched performances of the two leads.
That’s more than you can say for anyone else in the film, as Morgan hasn’t bothered to add more than one dimension to any of the other characters nor to provide especially memorable dialogue.
The racing footage is serviceable enough, although there are no attempts at the sorts of amazing shots or extended bravura driving sequences that previous filmmakers have sometimes pulled off. Rather than brilliantly clear, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography has something of the grubby visual quality of ‘70s films, particularly of international co-productions of the time, which is sort of amusing.
It’s startling to be reminded of how flimsy and delicate the cars of the time looked and of how common it was for drivers to be badly injured or killed. The very fine and successful 2010 documentary feature Senna underlined that fact and may actually have been an impetus for this film’s creationSeptember 3, 2013 at 9:42 am #110781
Total Film gave it 5 stars:
Bigger, faster and Lauda than any other race movie…
By James Mottram
Fast cars, glamorous girls and champagne a-flowing… Formula One has always been the sport with the most decadent vibe. More so than curling, anyway.
A world where brinkmanship is as common as wheel spins, where real danger lurks at every hairpin bend, it would seem fertile ground for a film. Particularly when your story zeroes in on the infamous rivalry between British driver James Hunt and his 1970s Austrian counterpart Niki Lauda – two wildly different characters united in their determination to win.
In the hands of Ron Howard, it’s a tale that could easily have gone awry; while he’s successfully documented real-life heroism before, in 1995’sApollo 13, he’s a director who, on occasion, gets dazzled by the superficial. The sour taste left by his recent Dan Brown outings – The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons – lingers, while his last film, 2011’s ill-advised return to comedy The Dilemma, is best forgotten.
Fortunately, Rush far exceeds expectations, emerging as one of the most rip-roaring rides of Howard’s career. Put this down in part to writer Peter Morgan. Whether it’s Blair/Brown (The Deal), HRH/Blair (The Queen), Idi Amin/his doctor (The Last King Of Scotland) or the two eponymous protags of the Howard-directed Frost/Nixon (2008), bringing two forceful figures head to head is Morgan’s speciality.
In 2010, Asif Kapadia’s Bafta-winning documentary Senna proved there is a thirst for F1 films, compellingly tracing the life and death of driver Ayrton Senna. Morgan winds the clock back further – to when driver safety finished a distant last.
But Rush is not a film for petrolheads (much as they’ll get a kick out of it). It’s a character study of two men – one brazen and cocksure, the other an early-to-bed obsessive – who were both mavericks of the track.
The Surrey-born Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is the golden boy, the George Best of F1, driving in the red and white of McLaren. He’s a risk-taker – and a womaniser. “James can be a loose cannon,” we’re told, “but in terms of raw talent there is no better driver in the world.”
His opponent and polar opposite is Ferrari driver Lauda (Daniel Brühl); more analytical than Hunt, more mechanically-minded, a man who spurns the post-race partying that his playboy rival laps up. Briefly showing us the rise of both men, Morgan’s script primarily concentrates on the 1976 season, with Lauda defending the World Championship he won the previous year.
Students of F1 will know that it was a season that changed both their lives forever. But even if you go in armed with all the facts, Rush’s immediacy will still have you sweating bullets.
Oddly, though, Rush almost stalls at the starting grid – the early scenes awash with 1970s fashions and mullets take some adjusting to. In particular, Aussie actor Hemsworth’s plum Home Counties accent briefly brings back nightmare memories of Tom Cruise’s ‘oirish’ lilt in Howard’sFar And Away.
But then, gradually, Rush shapes into a film that transcends a tale of ’70s excess and becomes one about dedication, honour, loyalty and sporting fellowship. There are no villains here, only heroes, and Morgan makes it clear early on that neither Hunt nor Lauda are as black-and-white as the chequered flag they chase.
Take Lauda, for example, and the scene where he and his wife-to-be Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) pick up two F1 fans whose car has broken down. Abruptly flooring the accelerator, Lauda shows that Hunt isn’t the only one capable of taking risks; suddenly, he feels like a worthy adversary.
That petrol emotion
But what really makes Rush purr is the final stretch, as Lauda contends with colossal odds, both physically and psychologically. Brühl has a knack for getting us to empathise with the unlikeable (see Inglourious Basterds) and with each scene he increasingly makes you understand – and root for – his difficult character.
As brilliant as Brühl is, Hemsworth has just as tough a task. From seducing a nurse (Natalie Dormer) to his tumultuous marriage to model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), he’s not always easy to side with (and Morgan’s script rather sidelines its female players). But there are several flashes of raw emotion here that balance the surface swagger.
Amid all this is a series of visceral racetrack scenes, brilliantly recreated by Howard and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire), cut to a thumping Hans Zimmer score. In a YouTube world where we’re used to seeing footage of high-speed F1 crashes, that Rush still manages to sting us with these is testament to its craftsmanship.
Rarely has a feature film captured the intensity and exhilaration of motor sport so well. Rush is the word.
Utterly gripping. Aided by two punchy lead turns, an Oscar-worthy script and stunning in-car footage, Howard’s race film delivers top-gear drama. A piston- and heart-pumping triumph.September 3, 2013 at 9:48 am #110782
I’m just glad that Ron Howard will likely have another critical hit. His output can get a little inconsistent, and The Dilemma was just a weird direction for his career to turn.September 3, 2013 at 9:54 am #110783
O Ronnie, Ronnie. I was planning to watch this inspite of him.September 3, 2013 at 10:57 am #110784
Are we including Chris Hemsworth in the Best Actor Oscar talk?September 3, 2013 at 1:14 pm #110785
I have trouble believing that Ron Hoawrd could actually pull off a ” virtuoso feat of filmmaking” or “one of the greatest racing films of all time”, but hyperbole aside, this could be good, and yes, we should take it as a possible contender.September 3, 2013 at 1:48 pm #110786
Wow. Usually something doesn’t turn out so great. Instead, ‘Gravity’ and ’12 Years a Slave’ delivered in a huge way, ‘Labor Day’ has strong reviews, especially for its performances, and now ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Rush’ are exceeding expectations. This is turning out to be a crowded year.September 3, 2013 at 2:05 pm #110787
Wow. Usually something doesn’t turn out so great. Instead, ‘Gravity’ and ’12 Years a Slave’ delivered in a huge way, ‘Labor Day’ has strong reviews, especially for its performances, and now ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Rush’ are exceeding expectations. This is turning out to be a crowded year.
Or maybe expectations and standards are lowered after the sheetty summer. I’m sure some of those films will fall once they actually open and all reviewers see them.September 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm #110788
This film will not receive any major Oscar nominations and most likely won’t receive any minor ones, either.September 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm #110789
Major car racing/chase movies like this are almost automatic film editing and sound nominees.
Grand Prix, Bullitt and French Connection all won for editing.
The editor is a four time nominee (all Ron Howard films) and won for Apollo 13.
Peter Morgan wrote it, Anthony Dod Mantel who won for Slumdog shot this.
Universal is platforming this for a week before general release.
I think they are going to push hard for many nominations.
It could be a more European appeal film, but this looks like a solid contender.September 3, 2013 at 4:57 pm #110790
I have trouble believing that Ron Hoawrd could actually pull off a ” virtuoso feat of filmmaking” or “one of the greatest racing films of all time”, but hyperbole aside, this could be good, and yes, we should take it as a possible contender.
I just heard a radio ad for this yesterday, and it basically went on for two minutes about how Ron Howard is the greatest director of all time, and how this movie would be the greatest because of that. I didn’t even get any information about the movie besides that a rivalry is involved. It was solely promoting Ron Howard’s involvement.September 3, 2013 at 6:46 pm #110791
Brühl seems to be co-lead here but if there’s a push to the seemingly more fluid supporting category, I wouldn’t be too surprised.