I gotta be honest, as much as I respect and like Ron Howard, it’s been a while since he’s made a film that really wowed me. FROST/NIXON came out in 2008, which was the last of his projects I recall really blowing me away, and I’d credit that mostly to the fine performances. But his new racing epic RUSH is high octane, edge of your seat entertainment at its finest, and a welcome return to form for the seasoned filmmaker.
The film follows the story of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), two popular Formula 1 racers from very different backgrounds who competed rather memorably in the 1976 season. Lauda was an unlikely success behind the wheel, all about discipline and the science of the sport. Hunt was a womanizing ladies man who lived for the glory the racing brought. While each man was impressive in their own way, they found the other to be nothing more than competition. Hunt meets a model named Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), and the two marry abruptly, which seems to indicate James may be finally maturing a bit. During one of the races, Niki has a horrible accident, which leaves him scarred for life… but the race may prove to be the inner fire he needs to make a comeback and prove once and for all who is the better man.
RUSH is masterfully directed and brilliantly performed, the perfect blend of talent in front of and behind the camera. While the marketing pushes Hemsworth heavily, which is likely a smart move since THOR: THE DARK WORLD is a little over a month away, this film is more of a showcase for Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda. Brühl gives a controlled and stuffy performance that perfectly encapsulates the impressive racing champion, and in many ways is the antithesis of James Hunt’s personality. It’s a strong portrayal, and one that might just earn Brühl a little nod come Oscar time. Hemsworth, while still undeniably likable, seems a bit more by the numbers. His characterization of Hunt is fine for what it is, but outside of the actor’s charm, the man portrayed just isn’t that respectable. Hunt was known as a party boy, lacking discipline but not talent behind the wheel. It’s interesting to see how Lauda, while stand-offish and snooty, becomes more of a hero as the story goes on. Olivia Wilde is great as British model Suzy Miller, delivering a convincing English accent, but sadly not lasting long in the story. I would have liked to see more story between her and Hunt.
Perhaps the most impressive moments in the piece come in the racing scenes. RUSH is appropriately titled, it’s exhilarating and intense, and every scene on the track is the sort of thing that leaves you gripping your arm rests. This is easily one of Ron Howard’s most impressive efforts, primarily from a technical standpoint. At 123 minutes the film’s only major fault is (oddly enough) some moments with slow pacing, causing the end result to feel a little longer than it is… but it’s not enough to ruin the overall product. The budget was reported at $38 million, but the finished product looks like $100 million epic. This is a superb production from start to the finish line.