At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Rush “2013”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sports Docudrama/ Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino, David Calder, Stephen Mangan, Natalie Dormer/ Runtime: 123 minutes

From the theatrical trailer, it would appear that when Rush was released, Ron Howard’s first directorial project since 2011 at the time was only going to appeal to sports and Formula One fans. So imagine how much of a pleasant surprise it was when this proved to be entirely untrue. That is because the thing about Rush is that it’s not really a racing movie and likewise while the film does in fact follow the world of Formula-One racing that is not what the movie is about or is defined by either. Instead Rush is about the lengths you are willing to go when pushed by someone who is just as determined to succeed as you are, and how that rivalry can either be your greatest triumph, or the thing that ultimately proves to be your undoing. Indeed when you pair that concept with a terrific cast, and some wonderful work from the crew behind the scenes, it really helps to deliver a film that truly was one of the most complete and satisfying films that the year 2013 had to offer.

The plot is as follows: Rush follows the intertwining on-track careers and personal lives of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) – one a carefree playboy with great natural talent, the other a brilliant tactician willing to work his way to the top – throughout the 1970s, culminating in their battle for the 1976 world championship. Yet as they’re busy pushing each other to their respective limits, the two men find themselves, against all odds and even to their surprise, progressing from the bitterest rivals possible to a place of both mutual admiration and respect for their other’s skill at the dangerous and quite deadly sport they call work.

Now this is a true story that is so fantastic that it almost seems as if it was fabricated, and yet the film never ever feels fake or Hollywoodified (and yes I did just say that). Indeed director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan go to great lengths to not make it the good guy vs. bad guy scenario by their presenting of both the flaws and the things that made Hunt and Lauda great men of the sport with Hunt being a charming, easy to like playboy who is also self-destructive, and Lauda being so calculating and abrasive he rarely shows emotion or vulnerability, and yet you’ve gotta love a man who is not afraid to say what he thinks. Indeed these aren’t archetypes on screen, but rather 3-dimensional people and you have to give props to the actors for their performances, but also Ron Howard for having the skill to allow them the opportunity to bringing the most out of those performances as well.

Now while the supporting cast also all deliver strong performances (Lara proving especially stunning as Lauda’s ever-supportive wife), the film ultimately belongs to Hemsworth and Brühl, and thankfully their dynamic performances prove more than worthy of carrying the film. This of course starts with Hemsworth’s Hunt winning the heart of racing sponsors, several ladies, and the audience through embodying the British superstar’s wild ways, witty self-deprecation, and exuberant confidence, but also at the same time keeping his portrayal from devolving into caricature by imbuing Hunt with a sense of loneliness underlying his charisma, and that is perhaps an emotion he attempts to fill with the sport’s life-or-death thrills. Brühl, who actually met with Lauda several times to prepare for the role, meanwhile effectively changes his accent and mannerisms to become the endlessly determined, brusque-to-the-point-of-offensive Austrian, and although anyone familiar with the 1976 championship will know that Lauda’s career takes a terrifying turn Brühl still manages to keep every ounce of characteristic blunt stubbornness in Lauda’s body whilst also giving viewers glimpses of Lauda’s (understandably underlying) mental distress, and indeed his nuanced performance may very well be awards-worthy, and I believe it should be.

Indeed though, the one thing that can be called Rush’s greatest achievement is arguably its amazing ability to make the two deeply flawed protagonists of the tale incredibly sympathetic while at the same time managing to successfully involve the viewer in their fierce competition and often equally tormented personal struggles. Indeed while the film centers around the ultimate contest, it still is quite hard to take sides because one might actually find themselves wishing for both drivers to succeed. Indeed it is in that thought process where we see that Ron Howard really is a chameleon of a director because although he never makes the same movie twice there really is no other film in his filmography quite like this one. Indeed he sheds many of the genre conventions that you find in his other works in order to give this film a genuinely stripped down, but still quite realistic approach. It really does at times make you truly feel as if you’re a fly on the wall watching the ultimate racing documentary with a rocking 70’s setting that’s equal parts nostalgic and cool, by and large thanks to the surprisingly nuanced and of-the-times musical score from Hans Zimmer, but also featuring some of the most exciting cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle since he won the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, and some genuinely whip smart editing with which you really get the feeling of being in this world, and on the track with these titans of Formula One racing.

However, there is also a heart to be found in this movie that is both a testament to Howard’s ability to shape smart characters and the performances of his actors with these two things combining to make these characters oddly yet quite effectively likable and relatable, even when they truly aren’t always the nicest of people. Indeed while some of Howard’s recent projects have not lived up to the greatness of Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and Frost/Nixon, it is safe to say that Rush is arguably of the higher caliber with Howard’s eye for cinematography and framing shots proving particularly striking, notably in the harrowing hospital sequences and with the exquisite melding of archival footage of the real-life men at film’s end.

All in all Rush is simply put, a phenomenal experience that also shows that it can be a movie that is fun, emotional, and thoughtful all in one. It is also a film that paints the picture as to why we need rivalries in life because when all is said and done there has to be something pushing us to greatness, and very often a healthy rivalry is the only way to get there. Indeed even if a Formula-One movie isn’t your cup of tea, I implore you to at least give the film a chance as not a movie about racing, but a character piece with stars Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl complimenting one another in their performances very much the same way that Hunt and Lauda did on the racetrack. Indeed, sometimes you don’t need flowery words to express how much a performance, or in this case, two performances work you just need emotion and above of all… need the drive. On a scale of 1-5 I give Rush “2013” a 4 out of 5.