Thursday, September 26, 2013

Movie Review: Rush

In 1976, Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda was well on his way to a second world championship title. But after a horrific accident hospitalized Lauda with significant burns to his face and body, the Austrian driver saw his lead in the points closing as his rival, English racer James Hunt, won race after race in his absence.

In Rush, Ron Howard's biographical film about the 1976 Formula 1 season, it is all but exclusively the threat of losing his title to Hunt that motivates Lauda to speed his recovery and return to racing in just 6 weeks. While the animosity between the two racers might be embellished in the movie, their 1976 season is nonetheless regarded as one of the greatest rivalries in racing history.

Thor's Chris Hemsworth plays the boozing, womanizing, jocular Hunt while the more reserved, calculating and stoic-to-a-fault Lauda is played by Daniel Bruhl, who delivered one of several standout performances in 2009's Inglourious Basterds. Both men are given equal screen time as their life paths push them closer together before arriving head-to-head, but it is Bruhl who commands the plot, seething behind a pinched expression and speaking in staccato punches like a Euro-Vulcan in the driver's seat of a Ferrari. His Lauda is a gruff, unlikeable jerk compared to the magnetic charm of Hemsworth's Hunt, but their opposing styles is what makes their rivalry, and this movie, so compelling.

Rush passes through the requisite backstory for each man, showing how both racers arrived in the big leagues through comically parallel paths and highlighting the stark contrast between their two personalities. But the bulk of the film is dedicated to the 1976 season, in which Lauda attempts  to defend his title with Hunt hot on his heels. Each man is given a romantic subplot but it is when the rubber meets the road that Rush becomes a full-throttle spectacle that you can't take your eyes off of.

Howard, best known for dramatic fare like Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon, proves a perfect fit to the genre. His camera captures every squealing tire and firing piston without losing sight of the human beings whose lives are on the line. The danger of Formula 1 racing is omnipresent with the film's plot coming during an era where an average of two drivers died each year. Rush bottles this danger and holds it out for examination, scoring the film with a subtext of the thrill-seeking nature of the near-nihilists who make defying death their livelihood.

Grade: B+

*Rush opens nationwide on Sept. 27.

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