“Rush”, a high-octane sports drama about two famous real-life figures of Formula One(F1), is more interested in personalities than car races. That is one of good things in the movie, but I have some doubts on whether its plot structure is really effective for the story to tell. The tension between its two contrasting heroes is interesting, and this dramatic tension is nicely emphasized by its well-crafted race sequences, but its balanced approach between two highly competitive guys are not very successful due to the inherent imbalance in its story.
The movie goes back and forth between them from the beginning when they were young newcomers of F3, which is an equivalent of the minor league in their field. James Hunt(Chris Hemsworth), a swaggering British guy always looking for fun including alcohol and woman(the latter one is the main reason why the movie got R rating), looks like a hunky jerk arrogant about his driving skill when we see him first, but, as others around him admit, he is indeed a talented race car driver despite his notoriety inside and outside the track, and this ambitious guy is determined to be the F1 champion because, well, he thinks he can.
While he is looking for a chance to go up to F1, he meets Niki Lauda(Daniel Brühl) from Austria, and they quickly become each other’s main rival after their first encounter at the race track in 1970. Lauda is also a man of equally ambitious, competitive, and abrasive personality, but he approaches to the race more carefully in contrast to Hunt’s risky and reckless attitude. He is also willing to take a risk, but that comes after some thoughts and calculations; he decided to become a F1 driver after concluding that it is only thing he can do well, so he put everything he had to the race at one point when his wealthy family did not support him.
They eventually go up to the F1 level while still maintaining the aggressive rivalry between them, and the movie mainly focuses on their fierce competition around the world during 1976. Lauda is a defending champion now, and Hunt is ready to be the next champion, and they keep clashing with each other whenever they can while going through many F1 races all over the world with other competitors.
The F1 race scenes are just as much as we can expect; with Hans Zimmer’s relentless score which pounds hard as if it depicted a bunch of Batmobiles, they mainly consist of quick shots mostly showing the characters wearing helmets, their hands handling gears and steering wheels, their feet pushing pedals, the pistons pumping inside engines, the whooshing race cars on the track, the announcers on broadcast, and, of course, that familiar camera viewpoint attached to the side of vehicles. This is nothing new, but they feel thrilling and dangerous as required, and some of them reminded me of my unpleasant night experiences with those speedy taxis in my city, which are driven like minor race cars when it is dark and quiet on the streets around midnight.
After the turing point in Lauda’s career, Hunt and Lauda gradually recognize and respect each other as the fellow rivals pushing each other, and that aspect is probably what attracted the screenplay writer Peter Morgan from the first place, whose best works were inspired by the conflicts between real-life figures in opposite positions. “The Deal”(2003) was about how Tony Blair and Gordon Brown competed with each other and then reached to the agreement which would affect their respective political careers forever, and “The Queen”(2006) was about how Queen Elizabeth II of England was persuaded by Tony Blair to drop her aloof attitude and make a public appearance after Princess Diana’s death, and “Frost/Nixon”(2008) was about the historical interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon which culminated to Nixon’s painful admission on his political mistake through Frost’s persistent questions.
Although Morgan’s screenplay never flinches from the flaws of its driven heroes(as their respective spouses find, they are guys not so easy to live with), it rarely goes deep into them while going through conventional ups and downs they experience during their competition, and sometimes the story loses its balance. Whatever Hunt might have felt during his darkest moments, his plight looks pale compared to Lauda’s gruelling comeback process after one disastrous accident, and that is the main reason why the last race sequence unfolded in Japan feels like a prolonged epilogue. The movie makes another mistake through the fancy montage scene following it, and that causes the conclusion scene to lose its dramatic effect to considerable degrees.
Two lead actors fit into their respective roles nicely. Chris Hemsworth is more interesting here than when he was playing some superhero guy with a mighty hammer, and Daniel Brühl has good dramatic moments when Lauda bravely tries to be back on the track while recovering from his massive injuries including a hideous burn on his forehead. They work together well on the screen, and, though not as effective as intended, the aforementioned conclusion scene feels touching because we can see that Hunt and Lauda have learned a lot from each other while finding something common between them.
In contrast, the supporting actors remain at the fringe while being mostly wasted. The worst case is Olivia Wilde, and she has virtually nothing to do except marrying Hunt, and then leaving him for Richard Burton, and then later watching her ex-husband’s race on TV. As Lauda’s ever-supporting wife, Alexandra Maria Lara has an amusing scene with Brühl early in the movie when they try hitchhiking after her car is broken, but then all she is demanded to do is just looking concerned about her husband’s safety on the track.
Despite all these flaws mentioned above, I enjoyed “Rush” enough to recommend it to you because its good things manage to compensate for its visible flaws in the end. The director Ron Howard did a fine job of keeping the movie racing along the plot in spite of many glitches, and I like some of its major moments even though my grumbles remain same as before. It’s surely formulaic as a sports film, but it is nice to see a movie trying to be a little more thoughtful than Fast & Furious movies.