11 October 2013

Review: Rush

(Dir: Ron Howard, 2013)

It's a curious thing that despite Formula One being such a huge global sport, it's one mostly ignored by the film industry. Most films dedicated to automotive love seem to be in the vein of The Fast and Furious franchise or the metal fetish of the likes of Gone In Sixty Seconds. Actual motor racing appears to be a secondary consideration compared to street racing, so you get the odd trashy attempt like Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone's Driven, or the inevitable NASCAR films like Talladega Nights and the mighty Days of Thunder. But when you consider this is a sport renowned for glamour that's fast, dangerous and potentially fiery, especially when shot or edited in the right way, the visual impact for storytelling is there. Hell, even Iron Man 2's Monaco segment was more thrilling than the likes of Driven. Fortunately Rush goes a long way towards justifying why there should be more.

Tackling the real life rivalry of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Nikki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), Rush touches their early days in Formula 3 before both are jolted into the big league and the fastest cars in the world, tracking the 1975 and particularly 1976 seasons. This is a sport intensely rich with rivalries and to be at the top exudes the essence of power, far more so than most other sports. These are men in control of some of the most powerfully wild man-made beasts, capable of destroying their lives with just the one tiniest miscalculation or mistake. The psychology of what drives these men to walk this knife edge is fascinating.

Hunt is the cavalier playboy for whom life should just be a party, with his dashing good looks, blonde locks and acres of charm carrying him from woman to woman with wild abandon. The desire to drive and be the best fuels his desperate need to win, paralleling his legendary sexual prowess. These are the two things he's good at so these are the two things he fully embraces in life. Hemsworth is dripping with each of these characteristics - you can see why everyone would love him and wants to be around him and why women so easily fall into his arms. Maybe there's a little bit of latent Thor still in there? 

Lauda is the more interesting, studious, detail-oriented counterpoint to Hunt. A man obsessed with the minutiae of what it takes to win, calculating every single way to make his car the perfect machine. He's a man with something to prove. His relationship with Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) is arguably his most curious characteristic, something he wants but struggles to balance with the risk of his job, so the eventual realisation of its importance is touching. Brühl is excellent, taking the awkward social aspects of the man and not making them a barrier to the intrigue surrounding him. And once covered with prosthetics he delivers a stoic heartfelt performance.

But where Rush really comes alive is in the visual department. It's a film that allows you to feel intimate with the drivers and their machines, with editing that cuts between pistons firing, engines sparking and rubber shimmering from the heat. A lot of the racing has the vague feel of being computer generated but that never detracts because it feels visceral. Although a tendency to descend into montage too regularly, something all racing films seem to do, feels like it limits the narrative, yet it still feels electric. This is aided by the music choices - always very much of the era and adding a little excitement and glamour to events. And I couldn't help but smile when a version of Steve Winwood's 'Gimme Some Lovin'' is used over a racing sequence - straight flashback to Days of Thunder!

Rush works thanks to the way it executes the racing scenes and brings the thrill of not just Formula One but motor racing as a whole onto the screen, coupled with the emotional intensity of two larger than life figures. The fact that this story is based on reality helps greatly so any thoughts of it veering into cliche are negated by the truth. By almost underplaying the inevitably fated moment of destruction and its aftermath in the latter part of the film, this actually creates a greater impact. It could be imagined that such a film is essentially costume drama for men, but putting aside the flame retardant overalls and helmets, Rush is a film that should appeal to anyone who likes gripping or superior storytelling, regardless of their thoughts on the sport, much in the way Senna expertly played out its heartbreaking story.

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