Rush Is a Rush

Posted: September 30, 2013 in Movies

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Rush makes up in thrills for what it lacks in nuance.  

The story of the 1970’s Formula One race car rivalry between British racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and speedy tactician Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl)) is the stuff of Grand Prix legend.  Director Ron Howard does the story justice by giving it an unexpected moral center.  

Hunt was the playboy in the rivalry, depending on talents, wits and that he could pay a better game of chicken than the other drivers.  Lauda was the craftsman, the one who knew everything about a car and how to race it inside and out, and who honed it to sleek perfection.  

Howard sets up Lauda as the ambivalent villain in the tale, seemingly making Hunt the flawed hero waiting to learn a lesson and become a better man and racer.  But Howard does something better with Hunt.  He makes him human.   Through divorce, loss of sponsorship and personal defeat Hunt defiantly remains the same– dedicated to fun, winning, racing and beating Niki Lauda.  His stubbornness grants him integrity and a grudging admiration in the eyes of Lauda at the end– and eventually chips away the rivalry into a plucky friendship once the obsession to be world champion is removed. 

The tactical Lauda comes off as cool because he is so cerebral, so dedicated to racing and perfecting it.  And if it wasn’t for Hunt, he would be king of the hill.  His skill level was that much greater than anyone else.  That cerebral quality also made Lauda more sensible than the other drivers with their death-defying mantras and bravado.  Lauda would never want to race whenever his self-calculated chance of dying exceeded 20 percent.  Rush has him in one scene trying to have his fellow drivers trying to call off a race that would be held in a downpour because it would be too risky for all of them.  

The defining crash that comes in the mid-point of Rush occurs to Lauda, leaving him a scarred mask with the will to race, but also the need to make something better of his marriage and his life.   It becomes a Beauty and the Beast story about him learning life lessons of integrity, compassion and selflessness that go beyond the track.  Lauda’s heroic moment comes when he learns to win by obeying his 20%  rule, even when it means that he could lose the championship.   To Ron Howard’s credit, it all works without turning into schmaltzy pulp– this oddly genuine story of two men who become champions.   

Sure the racing is thrilling and gorgeously shot– the best ever recreated on film.  Aerials, inside the cockpit, wide-angle and elegiac medium and close-up shots give the racing both immediacy and authenticity.  Still, it is the human angle that gives the movie its Rush.   

Rush gets an A-.   

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