Movie review: Ron Howard's 'Rush' is a race to the finish

For the News-DemocratSeptember 26, 2013 

What It's About

A legendary sports rivalry set in the dangerous world of Formula One racing, "Rush" gives equal time to the intense Grand Prix races in exotic locales as well as the psyche of the fierce competitors James Hunt and Niki Lauda, who brought out the best and worst in each other.

It's a fascinating, well-crafted, entertaining character study about two men most of us know little about, in a sport we haven't paid much attention to. That's a tribute to director Ron Howard, whose first film was "Grand Theft Auto"), and screenwriter Peter Morgan ("The Queen"), who previously worked together on the more cerebral "Frost/Nixon."

Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a British playboy with an appetite for excess. His undisciplined ways rankle the no-nonsense Austrian Lauda (Daniel Bruehl), whose determination to be the best, and the arrogance he exudes, chafes Hunt and other drivers. Hunt is a guy's guy, an adrenaline junkie whose hard-partying doesn't seem to affect his prowess on the race track.

The calculating Lauda is nakedly ambitious, driven and single-minded in his pursuit to win, never suffering fools and not letting personal feelings alter the risk percentage.

The film takes place from 1970 to 1976, rocking the shaggy hair, bushy mustaches and fashions of the era.

Performances

Both leads not only resemble the real men they play but also are convincing in portraying these complicated guys, and their obsession with a sport where they are willing to die just to satisfy their desire (and make an impact in the record books).

Walking beefcake Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") oozes cool and never lets up on the swagger, while Daniel Bruehl ("Inglourious Basterds") seems to enjoy bringing out Lauda's more unappealing characteristics, the awkward guy who doesn't care to fit in or make friends. Both guys can be incredibly insensitive jerks, so they are not that likable. Yet, the movie provides understanding -- to a certain degree -- of what makes them tick. There is much talk about the nobility of their profession, and the win-at-all-costs mentality.

What Works

The story swiftly advances with a minimum of schmaltz, and the crackerjack editing keeps us captivated. Those of us who don't know the outcome can invest in the suspense.

The production values are first-rate -- the film's look is spot-on, and you sense the roaring engines, the every-minute-counts nature of the race.

What Doesn't Work

The obligatory love interests -- Olivia Wilde as Hunt's wife Suzy, a supermodel who eventually leaves him for actor Richard Burton, and Alexandra Maria Lara as Lauda's wife Marlene, are both beautiful women who don't have much to do other than look worried and exasperated during their brief screen time. One minute Hunt meets Suzy, and the next minute we see their wedding -- speeding personal life revelations up to get to the sporting events.

The racing, while expertly filmed, didn't make me care who won, unlike some underdog sports films' climactic moments ("Seabiscuit," "Rocky" -- you know that feeling). Maybe it was the lack of an underdog, or the way both guys unapologetically lived their lives.

The injuries and accidents are as graphic as anything you see on a medical or crime procedural, so you are warned.

Three stars

Director: Ron Howard

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruehl, Olivia Wilde, Christian McKay

Length: 2:03

Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use

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