If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Even with all of the big releases this summer, I have quietly anticipating this particular film the most, a tale of one of the most exciting years of Formula 1 in one of the most exciting decades for the sport as a whole. The trailers had me pumped, it felt like the visual style was bang-on target, but there was a danger of it missing the human aspect to this story. So as I sat down in the theatre to see it last night, it wasn't without a bit of apprehension. As well as forcing myself to drop my baggage as a big motorsports fan, and look upon this as a movie first and foremost. It was just as tough a task as it was before I watched "Senna", but luckily I pulled it off so that this review won't be complete garbage... or at least that's the idea.
For those entering this film cold, "Rush" which is directed by Ron Howard, tells the story of the rivalry between two Formula 1 racing drivers in the 1970's, as well as showing their personal stories away from the track. James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is the fun loving, hard drinking playboy who just happens to be incredibly talented behind the wheel of a racing car. He starts off in the lesser Formula 3 series, but very quickly makes an impression to be picked up by a team in the top flight championship of F1. However, he is followed by a new driver named Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) who has a very different approach in being extremely focussed, calculating, and straight-up in everything he does. As they both enter F1 their polarising personalities inevitably collide with each other both on and off the race track, leading to a rivalry that also contains a sense of respect for each other even if they are both baffled by the lifestyle the other one has.
The movie tracks their progression through the main years of their competition, as they both fight to get on the best team, develop the best car, and win the World Championship. But F1 is an incredibly dangerous sport, where the chances of major injury or even death are a probability - not a worst case scenario. Both not only struggle against their personal affairs and the pressure the spotlight of stardom brings, but also the very real notion that their next race could well be their last.
Now, it would be very unfair to directly contrast this to "Senna" as that is a different style of film-making and is using actual footage. But it does serve well in being the best comparison in terms of subject matter, so I'll stick to that for this. But "Rush" is just as much about the human aspect to professional racing as it is about the racing itself. Lauda and Hunt are two fascinating characters to watch as they have completely different mentalities and approaches to what they do, but to the same end goal ultimately. Hunt is the party-going, smoking, boozing type with looks that swoon every woman that looks at him; he gets as much out of life as possible and doesn't care much for professionalism. Even in his interviews for the media he jokes and stabs at his opponents just for the fun of it. But we also see clearly the darker side to all of this, from his complete lack of control of his personal life, and his pre-race sickness before sitting into the car. It is like he lives for nothing but the thrill of racing, and spends every other moment trying to capture that thrill to little effect.
Lauder on the other hand, uses his wits to achieve what he needs to win. He understands everything about what is needed to make the car go as fast as it physically can, he knows all the underpinnings to the politics to the sport, and he doesn’t really give a damm what other people think of him. Friends aren't required and neither is the allure of the champagne palace that awaits any racing star. It doesn't come across as being cold or stoic, as he does illustrate humanity and even humour at times. But his drive to win is not overpowered by anything else... unless the risk is too high. I know the trailer spoils a very specific and important moment in this film, but I won't delve into it here for those who haven't seen it. Needless to say though, it is a very powerful moment in the film.
The performance by Chris is excellent, he completely looks the part of James Hunt and portrays that "I don't give a shit, where's my cigarette?" mentality the driver had. He holds up quite a bit of the first third of the film very well as we see him push up the ladder into F1. But Daniel Bruhl steals the show, his performance as Niki Lauda is simply outstanding. Everything about his mannerisms, stance, delivery of lines, and even his calculating stare is perfect. I was genuinely surprised when his story takes over the film so much, and yet succeeds so well at it. That's not saying that Hemsworth is "bad" or anything, but even he gets shadowed here. Both actors play off of each other extremely well, providing some great moments when both are on screen, arguing over a race or just James pulling Lauda's leg to get a reaction from him.
Of course, this kind of film needs to deliver big on the racing, and it is very impressive here. The whole film has a 70's feel to the way it is shot and the lighting effects that are used. The colours are like a faded VHS tape of the race, but cleaned up and made as vibrant as possible. At times it looks marvellous and really captures the time period in the way you want to see it. The camera shots during the races are varied and fast, giving you a view of every aspect of the cars, and every view of how they look on the track. Nothing about it looks CG, in fact it looks as if it was intended to be as mechanical and real as possible, and that really shows. Even if you don't understand some of the terms being used by commentators or engineers in here it doesn't matter that much at all - there's such an explosion of sound and visuals on the screen that you get sucked right back in straight away.
And speaking of the sound, I almost feel earplugs should have been handed out. You may as well be standing right alongside the track as these 450bhp monsters scream by at full throttle. It is raw, and unforgiving... and I loved it. The cinematography is very sharp and cleverly used throughout, and may provide some excellent photos for an entire art book on its own. I certainly feel that they were trying to imitate the '70's style of the posters from that era. The story has a good progression with well defined events and keeps you up to date with where in the timeline they are. The internal conflicts provide a lot of depth and really go towards building the characters and your connection to them, and the film never tries to take sides between the drivers. Both are displayed as being just as talented as the other even if the film follows Lauda the most.
With all of that you would think that I have no flaws to say for this... and you'd be almost right. I do think "Senna" captured the on-board shots of the racing better, where in here it felt a bit too shaken up and slightly disorientating at times. The final race may also be slightly confusing for some audiences as the build up to it is not focussed upon. And the section where James Hunt cannot find a team and falls into a drunken heap... maybe could have been done better? It seemed to resolve itself and then all was fine once more, I'm not sure if it was effective as it could have been.
But even these complaints are really me just nit-picking at a film that is so complete in excitement, characters, glory, disaster, and visuals, that it ticks every box on the sheet. Fans are going to love this throwback to one of the most extravagant and exciting times in motorsport history, and the general audience will be thrilled by the story itself. The actors are superbly well cast and Ron Howard gives it a visual flair that captures the time period in an accurate state, while at the same time providing a modern feel to the dynamic camerawork. I can even admit that it got a few tears from me at one point, but then again this is an incredible story of the human spirit overcoming even the most dangerous of circumstances.
Even if I didn't go in with a knowledge of what was going to happen or my interest in motorsport, this would still be a fantastic movie and I'm sure many people would agree too. There may be a few faults to pick out, but it is so well constructed and brought to life that it deserves a Better than Sex (10/10). "Rush" is one of those films that we see every five years or so that takes a sport or genre not usually approached, and knocks it out of the park for a Home Run. See this in the theatres while you can, you will not be disappointed at all.
Thanks for reading! ^__^