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Film Review: Rush

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On: Tue, Oct 8, 2013 at 12:59PM | By: Nick Bakewell


Film Review: Rush

Ron Howard’s latest picture, Rush, illustrates the story of the 1976 Formula 1 season and the rivalry between the two drivers at the heart of it. Following in the footsteps of 2010’s incredible documentary about the life, death, and career of Ayrton Senna (the aptly titled "Senna"), Rush has some big racing boots to fill. Unfortunately, despite the film’s abundance of acting talent and lush visuals, it ultimately falls short of its goals, toeing the line between narrative and documentary while committing to neither.

The drivers at the core of the story are James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). Such is the nature of the soap opera that is Formula 1 that the film doesn’t need to exaggerate the two drivers’ personalities to make them suitable for the big screen. Hunt, lithe and infectiously charismatic, romps through magnums of champagne and batteries of airline stewardesses with aplomb, while Lauda shuns the frivolous, jet-set world of F1 in favor of hours spent in the garage, endlessly fettling his car with a team of mechanics, seeking performance advantages at any cost. The battle between Hunt’s passion and raw talent against Lauda’s technical zeal, and almost autistically mathematical approach to driving, should have given Howard a rich palette with which to depict some fantastic racing. Yet there’s hardly any time spent watching the cars do their stuff, and what little there is shot so claustrophobically that one struggles to get a sense of what’s really occurring on screen. Howard devotes most of his (excessive, in my opinion) screen time to snippets of the drivers’ lives, preferring the drama occurring off-track to that happening on it.

Thus, we get a series of loosely connected vignettes, such as the nascence and ensuing collapse of Hunt’s marriage, while Lauda struggles to adapt to life amongst the stars as a Ferrari driver. Here, again, the film stumbles, this time hamstrung by a shoddy screenplay. Hemsworth and Bruhl do their best, and despite the fact that two actors have hardly been better cast, the lines they’re given are so matter-of-fact it comes off as a recitation of the “trivia” section of the Wikipedia page on the 1976 F1 season. The whole film is presented in this way, just a series of scenes that feel disconnected, purely representative rather than evocatively narrative.

It’s a shame, because as any F1 fan knows, every season is its own soap opera, and never was this more evident than in the roaring 70s, when the regulations were loose and the drivers free of the PR handling they’re subjected to today. Occasionally, moments of brilliance shine through, such as Hunt’s barefoot arrival in the ER during the film’s opening minutes, or the stylish and colorful montage that breezes through the middle of the season. Ultimately, though, Rush feels like a movie half-finished, unsure of its identity, and hobbled by a lackluster screenplay. Senna demonstrated that a full-blooded documentary about the sport can be interesting, even heartbreaking, so it’s especially disappointing that Rush falls so far short of its potential.




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