“Rush” is an incredibly well-made film that is undoubtedly the most visually accomplished movie that Ron Howard has ever made.
It’s a racecar movie that throws you right out among all the shredded tires, hairpin turns, and fiery explosions. It’s also a racecar driver movie that focuses on the compelling mid-’70s rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
But in spite of all the racing thrills and off-track intrigue, I still have no idea what Howard is trying to say with this movie.
The Hunt-Lauda rivalry is interesting, sure, but it is far from profound or rare in the world of sport. Also, featuring a sport no one outside of Europe really cares about and focusing on forgotten stars from a bygone era is fine if you are making a documentary for ESPN, but for a Hollywood feature film, you need something more to hang your hat on.
You can feel Howard searching for that special something all through the movie as characters wax poetic about man’s instinctive fascination with fast cars and the nobility of potentially lethal competition harkening back to the chivalrous days of knights and some nonsense about how those closest to death are the ones who are truly alive. None of it really sticks though.
So then aside from the squealing tires and crushing metal all “Rush” really has left going for it is a character study of these two men at the top of their game.
The cocky Brit, James Hunt, is played by Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. Hunt is the handsome and charming rock star of the sport who parties hard and changes women faster than his pit crew changes his tires.
The Austrian Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is Hunt’s opposite in nearly every way. He is controlled, calculating, and abrasive; and while his lack of a personality and singular focus has left him virtually friendless, it also makes him nearly unbeatable on the track.
Neither one of these guys are very likable as you could argue that the only thing they have in common aside from talent behind the wheel is a seemingly boundless arrogance. There is a certain romance to men risking death for fame and glory, but try as it might this movie can’t manage to dive beneath this superficial level.
I guess if “Rush” is about anything it is about these two men learning some degree of humility from each other, but you’re not going to get me to stand up a cheer for jerks becoming less jerky.
I’m just going to chalk all this up to Ron Howard loving cars. The race sequences are exhilarating as he stages them from every conceivable angle, including from inside the motor. Sex is also featured prominently as rhythmically pumping pistons are there to drive home the point that one primal thrill easily bleeds into the next.
I also need to throw in a cinematographer shout-out to Anthony Dod Mantle, who washes this movie in a 1970s Kodachrome hue that gives it the glorious texture of its time and place. One area this movie is certainly not lacking is in attention to detail.
“Rush” is unquestionably exciting, but in the end, it never really goes anywhere and is ultimately kind of pointless. Of course, you could argue that the same is true about men driving fast cars around in circles, but I’ll save my motorsports criticisms for another time.
“Rush” is rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images, and brief drug use.