Granted, it's somewhat cringeworthy to say that a film about two racing drivers is all about drive. For lack of a better word, though, that is indeed what Rush, the true story of the pivotal 1976 championship rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, is all about: the drive to win at all costs, to prove one's mettle, in different, almost opposite yet complementary ways. That it's a true story, minimally embellished by The Queen and Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan, only heightens the seductive mythical power of a tale that embodies the jet-setting allure of 1970s motor racing like few films have.

     F1 racing may have never been an exact science despite its focus on engineering, and the way in which the drivers came to be seen as adrenaline-soaked adventurers is perfectly captured in Rush's structure as a duel between two men who need each other, driven to excel by the sheer presence of the other as its exact opposite. It would be easy to invoke "daddy issues" or the usual engine/penis comparison, but the strength of Mr. Morgan's screenplay, and of Ron Howard's film, is that it goes well beyond that: it's not just about who's the better driver, has the most money or drives the strongest engine, it's about the drive that keeps you going when the rubber hits the road. The borderline-OCD Lauda's methodical, coldly calculated risk assessments (extraordinarily conveyed by Daniel Brühl in a remarkable performance worth the price of admission alone) needed the instinctive, devil-may-care coolness of Hunt (Chris Hemsworth underplaying cheerfully) to stand out. This is where Mr. Howard's film is best: when he allows the actors (a solid ensemble of non-American character actors) to ground the action, and when he connects that with the dynamically filmed racing sequences.

     It's whenever the camera is off Messrs. Brühl and Hemsworth and the racetracks, and Mr. Howard extends pointlessly the racing dynamism into flashy camera setups and fast-moving editing, that Rush loses steam. They suggest a director either wanting to freshen up the standard two-shot or aiming for a 1970s period feel, but in either case simply remind us how well-meaningly awkward Mr. Howard can be when he wants to be "hip", since "hip" was never his strength. Yet, in most of the film Rush is successful enough to prove him right to step out of his usual comfort zone; the strong performances from the two leads and Anthony Dod Mantle's moody, colour-challenged cinematography show his sensibility for the subject (he did start off as a director with a Corman cheapie about cars, Grand Theft Auto). The irony is, of course, that a director not known for his kinetic skills is trying to punch up what is essentially a solidly, traditionally-constructed two-hander script about ambition into a fast-moving film. That he only pulls it off halfway is, nevertheless, more than you'd expect.

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriter: Peter Morgan
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Hans Zimmer
Designer: Mark Digby
Costumes: Julian Day
Editors: Dan Hanley, Mike Hill
Visual effects: Jody Johnson
Producers: Andrew Eaton, Eric Fellner, Brian Oliver, Peter Morgan, Brian Grazer, Mr. Howard (Exclusive Media, Revolution Films, Working Title Films and Imagine Entertainment in association with Cross Creek Pictures, Egoli Tossell Film and Action Image)
United Kingdom/Germany/USA, 2013, 122 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 5, September 27th 2013


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