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Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 12:02 am

Howard fires on all cylinders with impressive Rush

filmA_ICON

 

Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda in Rush.
PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES

 

Who could have predicted that the director of Grand Theft Auto (1977) would one day be at the helm of the greatest auto racing film ever made? Ron Howard, who cut his teeth on low-budget flicks like Auto and Eat My Dust, does just that with Rush, an exhilarating look at the world of Formula One racing, circa 1976, that focuses on one of the bitterest rivalries in sports history. It comes as no surprise that with today’s advanced filmmaking methods that this is an exciting exercise. What separates this movie from the pack is the examination of the relationship between two fierce competitors who couldn’t be more different in their pursuit of a common goal.

English driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) not only had movie star looks and a brashness to go with them, but was also a consummate driver who never backed away from taking a chance behind the wheel, trusting his instinct and bravado to get him to the winner’s circle. His polar opposite was Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), an Austrian who came from money, was not particularly attractive and was able to build his cars in such an exact manner that it gave him a distinct edge. That he was smart and disciplined held him in good stead as well. While the film spans six years, it focuses primarily on the 1976 Formula One season when Hunt and Lauda were in a fierce completion for the championship, a campaign that saw one driver suffer a horrific accident and another take personal stock of himself both on and off the track.

Without question, the film is exciting. Placing his tiny cameras in every conceivable spot in and out of these race cars, there’s not an angle that Howard leaves unexplored. As such, he’s able to recreate what it’s like to be caught in one of these speeding death traps in ideal, as well as deadly, conditions. This is Howard’s most assured film; it brims with life – and death – and he executes it with a degree of precision and confidence that mirrors the approach his characters take toward living, that of being constantly on the edge.

And while the film is genuinely thrilling, it’s the exploration of the relationship between Hunt and Lauda that gives it heart. Peter Morgan’s script takes the time to delve into the background of these men and we’re allowed to see what compels them to put their lives on the line every time they take to the track. Hemsworth is quite good, proving he can do more than swing a big hammer and cut an imposing figure, but Bruhl is the real find here. He’s able to bring out Lauda’s arrogance, stubbornness and lack of social graces, yet he has us in his corner the entire time.

Early on, we’re told that two Formula One drivers die each year and yet this does not deter Hunt or Lauda into finding a safer line of work. It’s suggested that hubris, insecurity and perhaps a bit of a death wish pushes each of these men, casting them as tragic figures even when standing in the light of glory. As with the best sports films, Rush poignantly underscores that the best of athletes are not only inspired to defeat their competition in the arena but their inner demons as well.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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