Rush is one of those films that many people will get excited about, and will then pretty much disappear. It’s a rush, to be sure, and its surface is generally pretty and shiny and fast moving. When it was over, I felt as if I’d just seen another well-done superhero movie—lots of noise and excitement, good acting, and good-looking people and technology. The adrenaline high will last for a while, but then when you come down, there is little resonance to keep you engaged.
It’s the true-life story of Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Hunt was British, charming, good-looking, a daredevil, a serious womanizer and a party boy. Lauda was Austrian, serious to a fault, focused, boring, and the death of the party. The main focus is 1976, when the two competed most directly.
The rivalry and strange sort of friendship that developed between the two is the heart of the story, but it’s kept at something of a distance. If you tell the story, you tell of their differences, their antagonism, and their diametrically opposed perspectives and lifestyles. But if you see the story, it’s about cars, noise, racing, exhilaration, drinking and the fast-paced world of the slick ‘70s. The film struggles, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to blend the two into a coherent whole. Generally, in spite of strong performances and a classic tale of competition, the slickness and noise overpower and dull the human story at the heart of the film’s structure.
Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) as Lauda is getting a lot of praise for the humorless and tightly-controlled Lauda, and it’s well deserved. I wonder how much of that praise is connected to the tendency to over-credit performances that tamp down the looks of the actor (see any number of Best Actress wins). Nevertheless, Bruhl and Lauda ground the picture and provide any depth and resonance the picture has.
But as Hunt, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) deserves his share of acclaim. He has the fun role for an actor and star. His character is handsome, fun and has the emotional ups and downs that Lauda (in spite of the terrible things that occur to him) doesn’t demonstrate. But Hemsworth adds depth to a shallow character, making us identify with his pain even when it’s greatly self-inflicted. It would have been easy to stay on the surface with a character like this, but Hemsworth accomplishes the same thing he did in Thor—taking a possible one-dimensional character and breathing life and depth into it while keeping to the legend.
Only Olivia Wilde (House, M.D., The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, an abominable film) as model Suzy Parker, who married Hunt and then was “sold” to Richard Burton, disappoints. The film has them marry far too quickly, which doesn’t help. But Wilde, though very pretty, doesn’t embody the ‘70s model type, and her scenes with Hunt are less than believable.
Director Ron Howard is an accomplished director, but may never be a great one. Critics seem to love following his development, and the story from Opie to Oscar is a compelling human interest story in the middle of a de-humanizing industry. He deserves at least attention if not praise for not pigeonholing himself and continuing to try new things. His work is usually worthy of a look, as is Rush. It’s a fun ride, but except for Bruhl’s impression on you, will likely be forgotten by the next day.