Movie review Monday: Rush

A movie about men who drive fast cars around a track over and over… On paper that's not exactly a concept with universal appeal. Although there are millions of motor racing enthusiasts the world over, the simple fact is that sport racing traditionally doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying movie experience. If you don’t count the acclaimed Senna documentary, the last serious sport racer was probably Sylvester Stallone’s Driven over a decade ago. And that was a braindead mass of clichés.

So it’s quite surprising then how engaging Rush is. Even if you’re not a Formula One fan, you’ll never be bored during this slickly made, and not at all stupid, dramatisation of real life events. The latest effort from director Ron Howard doesn’t break free of cliché, but for the most part it avoids cheesiness (at least until the very end), providing a nuanced character study in between some very exhilarating, well edited race scenes.

Set during the 1970s, Rush explores the rivalry between drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), two men who couldn’t be more different, but whose shared ambitions see them competing for the title of World Champion during the dramatic 1976 F1 Season. British Hunt is a hard-living, highly charismatic playboy who races for kicks, while Austrian Lauda has the cool, risk-adverse approach of a businessman; not to mention a hefty dose of unapologetic arrogance. “Asshole” flies frequently from his lips.

Rivalries are central to many sport flicks, but Rush elevates it beyond the standard, tired “men competing on and off the track” plotline. The movie feels more like Amadeus or The Prestige played out in the pitlane. Hunt and Lauda’s antagonism has terrible consequences at times but it is also a powerful, positive motivator for both men. And the film certainly isn’t subtle about this point.

Anyway, this kind of movie lives and dies by its casting, so it’s a good thing that Hemsworth and Bruhl are so excellent in their roles. They nail their portrayals of the icons they’re playing, and it’s worth noting at this point that Rush does an exceptional job at capturing the look of an era. It’s the most convincing and visually enjoyable period-set film since Argo.

Be aware though that Rush is very much a male-centric movie – failing the Bechdel test spectacularly. Once again Olivia Wilde is wasted by Hollywood, appearing in a small role along with Alexandra Maria Lara as the drivers’ long-suffering love interests. They're really just present to look sad and worried as they continually take second place to their partner’s obsession.

This gripe, and the formulaic plot progression aside, Rush is hands down Ron Howard’s best film in years. It’s not at all subtle about it, but the movie takes a slice of sporting history – back when motor racing was more about passion, hedonism and death than emotionally sterile business deals – and moulds it into an examination of what it means to be happy and content with your life. Naturally, this is different for different people but as the film stresses, there are always lessons to be learned from others; particularly your enemies.

4 stars out of 5.

This review originally appeared online at The Movies.


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