Auto racing is in my blood.
Auto racing films are not.
That all changes with Rush, director Ron Howard's riveting new film set inside the world of Formula One racing amidst the real life story of the rivalry between fashionable playboy racer James Hunt and Niki Lauda, who'd captured the Formula One championship in 1975 and whose personality was regarded as abrasive at best.
Those of you who remember when Opie became director Ron Howard also remember that it all started with the bubble gum car chase film Grand Theft Auto from 1977, which just so happens to be the year after a good majority of the action in Rush occurs. Grand Theft Auto was most assuredly a flawed film, yet for fans of such films it is to this day remembered with a "guilty pleasure" sort of sheepish grin. Of course, Howard has gone on to make much greater films and there's an awful strong likelihood that Rush is one of his greatest.
Rush is a rarity in Hollywood in that it is both a compelling character-based drama and easily one of 2013's most mesmerizing action flicks for adults. Working from a screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen), Howard has crafted a film that perfectly captures the semi-respectful rivalry that existed between pleasure-seeking Hunt and the no nonsense Lauda. For those who are familiar with the story, and that should include most true fans of any form of auto racing, it's hard not to marvel at just how vividly and authentically Howard has brought it all to life.
Of course, it helps to have two fine leading performances. While it may be a push, Daniel Bruhl should be remembered come awards season for his disciplined yet constantly simmering and heartfelt performance as Lauda. There are scenes in Rush that are difficult to watch because Howard refuses to compromise authenticity and Bruhl masterfully portrays the essence of the man beneath the reputation. Those familiar with Lauda know that he could have so easily become nothing more than a caricature, but such is most definitely not the case here. While Lauda's infamous and relentless devotion to auto racing glory is well portrayed here, Bruhl also beautifully captures that which makes the racers heart beat, though you might be hard-pressed that was his wife, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), whose portrayal here is likely as secondary as the real life Marlene was for Lauda.
While it would also be easy to chalk up Chris Hemsworth's performance as just another "pretty boy" role, by the film's mid-point it's impossible to deny that Hemsworth's performance is as stylish and attractive as was Hunt himself. While Lauda's marriage had unfolded as something along the lines of an obligation, Hunt goes for more of the fairytale romance by marrying supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). Not surprisingly, the fairytale wasn't long lived as she was swept away by none other than Richard Burton as he brooded over a temporary stall in his racing career.
Howard beautifully weaves together the personal stories of these two men while not forgetting about the importance of auto racing in a film that centers around it. The auto racing scenes in Rush are as exciting and compelling as any ever caught on film, while Howard captures as much edginess in the person-to-person rivalry as he does in the anxiety-inducing racing sequences.
One should be at least modestly aware that Howard presents the foibles and flaws of both men with unflinching detail, while he's also loyal to detail when it comes to present the details and aftermath of a harrowing crash by Lauda that very nearly sidelined him at the height of his rivalry with Hunt in 1976.
I grew up around auto racing. I had uncles who raced, a father who raced for a few years and, yes, early on in my life I even dabbled with midgets and dirt cars. As a child with a serious and thought to be terminal disability, I had my dream come true when legendary racer Mario Andretti showed up at my house one day.
I still get weepy even thinking about it.
I also still get goosebumps remembering the words, the actions, the racing, and the passion that filled my heart and mind while watching Ron Howard's Rush, a film that should see at bare minimum Oscar nominations for Bruhl and for screenwriter Peter Morgan along with at least a couple more tech nominations. The film is rated "R", because by this stage in his career Ron Howard has long since left behind the world of "bubble gum" action sequences in favor of the real thing.
Yeah, that's it for sure. By the end of the film, I was feeling it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic