Review: Rush (TIFF 2013)
PLOT: The real-life rivalry between Formula One racers Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), from their early days on the F3 circuit to the peak of their fame in the 1976 racing season.
REVIEW: It's ironic that after a couple of stale years, the movie that rockets Ron Howard back to the heights of his directorial prowess is a car movie. Those who've followed his career know that Howard's first film as a director was the Roger Corman car chase movie GRAND THEFT AUTO, so in a way this brings him full circle. Obviously the two movies are wildly different, the former being a b-movie drive in flick, while RUSH is an A-list biopic/Oscar hopeful. Other than cars, what they have in common is that they're both the work of a passionate filmmaker, who seems to be relishing his material, which is something I haven't felt from a Ron Howard movie in a while now.
It helps that the James Hunt/Niki Lauda rivalry is pretty intense, and while the high-pedigree script by Peter Morgan (FROST/NIXON) is clever and classy, it never has to rely on exaggeration. Their rivalry was exciting enough. James Hunt is a pretty charismatic character, being the playboy racer all of us have probably fantasized about being at some point in our lives. Chris Hemsworth is a natural for the part, effortlessly establishing Hunt's insane charisma right from the (great) introduction where he marches into an ER, bruised and bloody, and is able to seduce the sexy nurse on duty (Natalie Dormer) so fast that she has sex with him before stitching him up. Hunt seems like a fun role, and Hemsworth is ideally cast.
As good as he is- and I'd wager he's great- I think Daniel Bruhl steals the show as Lauda. The other day, in my FIFTH ESTATE review, I wrote that Bruhl came off as bland in a fairy uninteresting role. Here, he's arguably got the best part in the film, and he absolutely owns the movie every second he's on screen. Lauda is a less-showy part than Hunt, with him quieter, and more introspective. But, if you know Lauda's story, you'll know that something happens here that changes his perspective on the sport, and makes him into the F1 icon he is to this day. It's a brilliant part for Bruhl, and I'd be he's now a serious contender for a best supporting actor nomination at the Oscars (although it could be argued he's more of a lead).
Next to Hemsworth and Bruhl, the rest of the parts are fairly small, with Olivia Wilde having a memorable, if small part as Hunt's model wife Suzy. However, Alexandra Maria Lara (from CONTROL) has a great part as Lauda's love interest, bringing a warmth to a film that might otherwise have been overwhelmed by the rivalry and the racing. She's a good counterpoint to the two guys.
A lot of credit is due Howard as well, who's managed to turn a movie that could have had an audience that would be limited to F1 devotees, and makes it a pretty universal underdog story. It's also loaded with testosterone, and zips along at a fever pitch. It apparently runs just over two hours but to me it went by lightening fast. The race scenes are superb and even if you're like me and know virtually nothing about the sport, you'll be on the edge of your seat chewing on your fingernails like I was. The propulsive score by Howard regular Hans Zimmer helps.
I'm really thrilled that RUSH ended up being such a strong return to form for Howard, who's a guy you really can't help but like, even when his movies don't deliver. This is probably one of his five best films, and yet another awesome TIFF title.
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