TIFF 2013: Ron Howard's 'Rush' is Exciting, Entertaining & Engaging
by Alex Billington
September 17, 2013
My appreciation for Formula One racing grew exponentially in the last few years. It all began with Senna, the outstanding doc (see it if you haven't!) profiling driver Ayrton Senna. This year we have a feature film titled Rush from director Ron Howard that focuses on the rivalry between two other famous drivers - Niki Lauda, played by Daniel Brühl, and James Hunt, played by Chris Hemsworth. While the mechanics of the cars are fascinating, it's just as compelling to dive deep into the psyche of the drivers, and what drives them. That's a bit cheesy, but all I wanted to do by the end of this was go out and drive, and push the limits.
Ron Howard's Rush is a bit of an unconventional film for the actor-turned-filmmaker, mostly in the way it builds momentum through energetic racing scenes and doesn't hold back on any realistic content that makes it R-rated (for "sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use"). Featuring a voiceover by Brühl throughout, the film attempts to explain the rivalry between these two competitive and talented Formula One drivers. It explores both sides equally for the most part, focusing more often than not on Hemsworth as Hunt, the playboy from England who kept things on the edge while Lauda just wanted to keep things safe. As history goes, Lauda got in a fiery crash in 1976, but was out racing again in a few weeks.
While the movie spends plenty of time character building, perhaps even too much time, there's just as much time spent on the race tracks and it's easily the most thrilling part of Rush. Each of the important races are shown, with a bit of archival footage mixed in, but they never spend too much time at any one race as that's not the point. Howard wants to tell the much more complete story of these two guys, spending most of his time on the 1976 Grand Prix comprised of a number of races around the world. Maybe I just wanted to see more, but some of the races are quickly glossed over, with a title card and that's about it. It's good they're shown briefly as they are vital parts of the story, but as someone who enjoyed every last second of the races thanks to the way they are shot, I wanted to see more and more footage right when he begins cutting back.
Howard balances the time on the race track with the two drivers interacting with their significant others - specifically Hunt's lover, the model Suzy Miller played by Olivia Wilde, and Lauda's wife Marlene Knaus, played by Alexandra Maria Lara. Both of them do a serviceable job in their roles, but I can't help but feel like they were still underutilized to convey the big picture importance of love and attraction as two emotions that keep these drivers so competitive. More time is spent with these two off the track than on the track, and after a while it started to drag with exposition. Thankfully when that happens, Howard gets things back on track and reminds us this is still a movie about the high risk, but exhilarating sport of Formula One racing.
More than anything, Rush left me with an even greater appreciation for the crazy people who decide to sit inside these high powered gas-tanks-on-wheels and drive around curvy race tracks at high speeds. The way he shoots the racing scenes is intense and thrilling, moving from close-ups to wide angles of the action to helicopter shots. Allowing audiences to feel first-hand the thrills of Formula One racing, and then showing us the bold personalities behind those who do that for real, help make this engaging and entertaining from start to finish. I applaud Howard for stepping out his comfort zone and still delivering an excellent movie.
Alex's TIFF 2013 Rating: 8.8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing