Making superlative movies for the masses has its rewards.
For director Ron Howard, deftly combining the often-incongruent styles of mainstream and artsy has garnered nearly $2 billion at the box office and a Best Director Oscar while producing a legacy of deserved acclaim. Parenthood, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind are all films as intelligent as they are accessible.
His latest effort, Rush, doesn’t deviate from the filmmaker’s successful formula as a two-hour character study of real-life rival Formula One racers, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), and their battles on and off the tracks in the 1970s.
Directed by Ron Howard.
Written by Peter Morgan.
A Universal release, playing at Cinemark Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images, and brief drug use.
Running time: 120 minutes.
Critic’s Rating ★★★★
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Christian McKay, Natalie Dormer
★★★★★ Outstanding; ★★★★ Very
Good; ★★★ Good; ★★ Fair; ★ Poor
Niki is an Austrian driver whose skill behind the wheel is enhanced by almost pathological preparation and behind-the-scenes knowledge of racing. The English James is a natural racing talent whose biggest asset is a willingness to risk everything to win.
The film revels in their distinct contrasts.
Niki is cautious. James is reckless.
Niki is abrasive, distant, and difficult.
James is charismatic, quick tempered, and a party waiting to happen.
Niki’s pronounced buckteeth and homely features earn him the nickname “The Rat.” James’ dashing good looks ensure that he’s almost never without a woman at his side. Whether he knows her name is another matter.
Brühl (Fredrick Zoller in Inglourious Basterds) and Hemsworth (Thor in The Avengers) deliver lively and robust performances that unearth the humanity in two large and often conflicting personalities.
As these two alpha males are celebrated as the biggest names on the Formula One circuit, Niki and James are their own greatest rivals and admirers. But the script never asks viewers to favor one racer over the other. Instead, it’s a series of incredulous true events that provides reasons for us to root for both.
James loses his racing sponsor and struggles to rejoin the Formula One circuit, and later Niki, well on his way to repeating as world champion, suffers a fiery crash on a rain-soaked track that melts the skin on much of his head and face.
With Niki recovering in a hospital, James mounts what would be an extraordinary come-from-behind championship run by pushing himself to dangerous lengths in the remaining races. Niki, meanwhile, uses his rival's surging momentum as motivation to return to racing weeks after the gruesome accident, his bandages still soaked by blood as he removes his helmet. If you don't know how this Formula One season for the ages plays out, don't let Wikipedia ruin the surprise.
Howard shows great restraint in not overplaying the speeding car footage, which makes the final races all the more important and exhilarating, with cinematographer Anthony Mantle's immersive camera shots around the track and composer Hans Zimmer's pulsating score working in tandem to heighten the tension and excitement.
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) gives us plenty of drama off the tracks too, most notably with James and his failed marriage to blonde British supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). In a made-for-tabloid scandal, Miller left the playboy racer for Richard Burton, who ended his second marriage to Elizabeth Taylor for their budding relationship.
In a film where so much could have gone wrong — sudsy drama, speeding cars monopolizing screen time, hackneyed genre conventions — it's a testament to Howard's skill behind the camera how much of it goes right.
Rush stands proudly as another remarkable showpiece of the 59-year-old filmmaker's underrated talent in crafting everyman art.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.