Rush is a movie about assholes.
It’s acknowledged on more than one occasion that the two racers at the center of director Ron Howard’s newest opus, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth; Thor, The Avengers) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl; Inglorious Basterds), are as much. And assholes they may very well be, but they also happen to be the fastest men on the planet circa 1976 and are the subject of one of 2013’s very best films. Make no mistake, this is the Ron Howard of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind fame, not Angels & Demons or The Dilemma – how we’ve missed you, Ronny.
What’s instantly noticeable about Rush is how little actual racing is seen on screen. Often times, we’ll see what happens right before a race and may even catch a few blurs speedily passing through the frame, but very often what we get are text summaries of the race that tell us exactly what we need to know to follow Rush through the 1976 Formula One season. If you’re no fan of racing or sports movies in general, have no fear: Rush is perfectly geared towards diehards and greenhorns alike.
Of course, this isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, it allows for ample time with Hemsworth’s Hunt and Brühl’s Lauda, both of which are easily two of the most interesting, confusing and charismatic characters of this or any decade in movie history. Being race car drivers and driven by the glory of winning, it shouldn’t surprise that these men are creatures of absolutes: they live, love and drive incredibly fast.
Watching Rush, which is made all the more beautiful by Anthony Dod Mantle’s gritty and mesmerizing photography, one can’t help but be reminded by the 2010 documentary Senna, about the Brazilian Formula One driver and World Champion, Aryton Senna. The races in both films are thrilling to be very sure, but it’s the men doing the driving, mostly when they aren’t anywhere near a race track or car, that turn heads. Hemsworth and Brühl turn in complete and engrossing performances which have been fleshed out and geared to perfection by screenwriter Peter Morgan. Hemsworth has charisma to spare and Brühl should gain serious consideration for Best Supporting Actor come Oscar season; he’s that good.
Both Senna and Rush spend an apt amount of time with racer rivalries. The intricacies of such things are sometimes hard to grasp and can seem foreign, even childish, to an outsider. But in reality, they are just as much about respect as they are contempt. Both films throw their audience into the period and both films very much carry a weight about them of “being there”.
One of the most moving scenes in the film involves Hunt defending his rival that warms the heart despite loosening some teeth in the process. It’s a scene that brought me to tears at a moment I wasn’t expecting. And that’s what Rush excels at: surprising you. I’m by no stretch of the imagination well versed in auto racing or the people who inhabit that culture. But Rush made me feel for these assholes in a way I never thought I ever could. And when it was all said and done, I went home wondering where they’ve been all my life and wishing I’d gone on the ride with Hunt and Lauda a lot sooner.
Final Verdict: 5/5