Review of Rush – Ron Howard’s Ode to 1970’s F1 Glamour

Posted by at 12:02 am on September 23, 2013


Set against the sexy, glamorous golden age of Formula 1 racing in the 1970s, Rush is Ron Howard’s contribution to the racing film genre.

It is is based on the true story of the intense rivalry between handsome English playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), and his methodical, brilliant opponent, Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). The story follows their distinctly different personal styles on and off the track, their loves and the astonishing events of the 1976 season in which both drivers were willing to risk everything to become world champion in a sport with no margin for error.

Hemsworth and Bruhl give performances that are entertaining and spot on recreations of the drivers. Howard shows us how the reckless gad-about Hunt, who started his career racing Mini’s, quickly moved into Formula 3 racing where his wins of many races and finishes high in others, marked him as promising driver, one of three picked in 1968 by the British Motoring Guild. It was also during this time that Hunt’s scuffles, both on and off track, drinking, drug use and womanizing launched the other part of his reputation that would follow him through the rest of his career. Being a talented though not completely reliable driver due to his party animal ways.

In 1973, Hunt’s team made the jump to the glamorous Fomrula 1 circuit, since Lord Hesketh, the team’s financial backer determined that they might as well fail in F1 since it was not that much more expensive than the failure they were already seeing in F2.

Hunt’s rival Niki Lauda,was born in Austria and entered racing against the wishes of his family.  While they wanted him take the traditional placement in business or finance,  he felt he did not have the aptitude for either.  After starting in Mini’s and moving to sports cars, Lauda took out a bank loan and brokered his way into Formula 2 with the BRM team. The film details how he eventually ended up on Ferrari’s F1 team, setting us up for the meat of the story Lauda’s determined battle for supremacy over Hunt to be the champion driver of the 1976 F1 racing season.

The racing sequences are great to watch, Howard uses a number of different shooting styles and film effects (introduction of grain, lens flare and  filtered colors) to showcase the speed and intensity of the competition. We’re witness to the mid-season race at Germany’s famous and deadly Nürburgring, where a fiery crash nearly cost Lauda his hopes for a championship, and left him hospitalized for over 40 days.

We see the culmination of the season in Japan where it comes down to the final contest of the season for 1976, where Laura and Hunt look to settle the score, with hunt have nearly tied the overall points total during Lauda’a amazing recovery. While the film is a special treat for motor sport enthusiasts, Howard’s handling of the nuanced relationship between the two drivers makes it a compelling story for anyone. Both Hunt and Lauda appealed to Howard because they were “utterly and entirely individuals.”

These rivals enjoyed taunting each other: Hunt mocks Lauda as “a good little boy,” and the Austrian returns the compliment, saying he wished his counterpart was “half as impressive inside as outside.” Sadly this made some at Universal Pictures think the picture was too risky to back.  Even with all the money Howard and producing partner Brian Grazer has brought in over the decades. The execs worried audiences would find it hard to root for a victor amongst the arrogant Hunt and the unsociable Lauda. So, Howard and Grazer had  to seek production money elsewhere for this project. Mainly from Germany.  Universal did ended up with the distribution deal, in the end.

The movie’s editing by Daniel P. Hanley and makeup are exemplary, as is Zimmer’s propulsive score.  Zimmer could be tracking on himself when Oscar time comes around with tense work on “12 Years a Slave.”

Ron Howard has a great gift of taking complex subject matter and stories and boiling them down to their core essence to make a film which holds true to the subject while making an entertaining ride for audiences from all walks of life.  This time he boiled the story down a little too much when it came to the drivers lives.  We think is due to the pressure put on him by Universal when it came to the making the story work for America, where NASCAR, not F1 rules the airwaves and to make both drivers more likable. One example of this is not showing the 1972 F1 season was so awful for Lauda, he fell deep into debt and a powerful depression where he contemplated suicide.

Lauda and Hunt both irritated and inspired one another to greater and more astounding performances is a sport that was remarkably dangerous. Overall, the story moves along at a good pace, the driving and racing sequences deliver realism and speed and the performances from the whole cast make for a really enjoyable film experience, even if you aren’t a gear head.

Rating 4.5

MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use

Running Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

Rush is out now in the UK , NYC and LA.  It will be fully released in the USA on September 27.

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