Sunday, January 26, 2014


Rush (2013)
Biography, Drama, Sports, 123 minutes
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Daniel Brühl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara

I remember the marketing campaign for Rush, which claimed it was unmissable and full of thrills. While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, it's definitely not as advertised.

It's actually better, but in a different way.

The movie performed badly at the US box office, making just $27 million. Formula One racing isn't very popular in North America, so it's not hard to see why audiences weren't anxious to see the movie in theaters.

The story focuses on the 1976 Formula One championship, which came down to a battle between two men:

James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) was an English playboy more interested in pursuing the lifestyle of a superstar than devoting his life to his career. We see him drinking, smoking, and chasing beautiful women. He's carefree, controversial and irresponsible. In contrast, Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) will do anything to succeed. He takes care of his health, goes to bed early, and seemingly has more knowledge of how to get the best out of his car than his mechanics and the team owners.

An early scene shows how Hunt and Lauda first raced together in the lower Formula Three class. Lauda is forced off the track by Hunt and takes an instant dislike to him. Over a period of six or seven years, the rivalry intensifies. Success in Formula One racing depends on the competitiveness of the car as much as the ability of the driver. Lauda negotiates a deal to drive for one of the best teams, Ferrari. Hunt resorts to begging for a position with any team that will give him a car good enough to compete. He eventually signs with Hesketh.

You might think that a movie about car racing would be full of action, but director Ron Howard spends more time off the track than on it. He develops the plot by showing us the contrast between Hunt and Lauda. As well as character differences, they came from very different backgrounds. Hunt's family was rich and prepared to buy him a place on a team, but Lauda was disowned by his father after choosing racing over a more traditional career. We see Lauda succeeding on his own merit rather than being handed anything. While Hunt pursues any attractive woman who will spend the night with him, Lauda chooses a supportive woman who ended up being married to him until 1991.

Formula One racing is a glamorous sport. In 2013, two drivers earned $27 million in salary alone. Sponsorship deals would vastly increase that sum. If you have ever watched a race, you'll have seen the celebrities in attendance, as well as a horde of beautiful women. The movie speculates that women like racing drivers because they are so close to death, and that makes them more alive than other men. It also helps that they are incredibly rich. An early voice-over informs us that of the 25 drivers in Formula One, two will probably die by the end of the season. Although that was true at the time, safety has improved enormously since the 1970s.

Will the movie work for you if you know nothing about Formula One? I grew up following the sport and still watch every race today. I have no interest in any other type of car racing. It's hard for me to imagine watching the movie without the knowledge I have gained over a lifetime, but I would think that the story has plenty to offer those who know nothing about the sport. It should work if you enjoy character studies. As for the acting, many think that Brühl should have received an Oscar nomination, while I have never seen Hemsworth deliver a better performance. The story is interesting and quite gripping. It felt as if only an hour had passed by the time that the credits rolled.

Writer Peter Morgan has given us some great stories set in the 1970s. He teamed up with Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon, which received international acclaim, while Tom Hooper's The Damned United does an excellent job of portraying English soccer.

If you are curious about seeing the film for the racing sequences, you might be disappointed. I would estimate that around 30 minutes is devoted to the actual races. Those sequences are done very well, and really give you an idea of what it might be like to drive a Formula One car. Howard also shows the dangers involved, and how a serious accident can occur in a split second. But there is a lot more to this movie than action sequences.

The Blu-ray delivers a spectacular presentation. Colors are vibrant, features are clear, and the audio is excellent when it needs to be. With ten deleted scenes and just over an hour of special features in total, the package offers plenty of insight into the making of the movie and Formula One in general.

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use.

Overall score 4/5

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  1. Good review Steve. Howard's never been a great director in my eyes, but he definitely shows signs of changing things up a bit here. He also does a very good job at making us like both of these characters, while also dislike them, at the same time. Makes the movie all the more thrilling to sit-through and see happen, even if you don't know the outcome of all the races.

    1. Thanks Dan. I do enjoy Apollo 13, but this was a refreshing movie. I'm lending it to a friend at work tomorrow.