9/6/2013 - First Look: VM Reviews Ron Howard's F1 Saga 'Rush'
Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda play rivals for the F1 title
(photo: Universal Pictures)
Los Angeles, CA -- There have been many racing movies made since the dawn of film. Yet despite all the drama that motorsport produces, cinematic results have been classically disappointing, with many citing that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
There are only a few such films that come to mind as being relatively good -- and perhaps only two that could actually be called great. The first being John Frankenheimer's 1966 epic "Grand Prix" and coming second, Steve McQueen's "Le Mans" in 1971. These films certainly rate as epic -- if only for their groundbreaking cinematography. Yet their story lines leave the viewer somewhat wanting. "Senna" was also a marvelous film, yet it was not a dramatic interpretation, but a documentary.
All said, there is good news, fellow race fans: "Rush," in my opinion, may be the best racing film in four decades. Further, it has the potential to be a mainstream hit. Director Ron Howard began filming "Rush" a couple of years ago and it has been anticipated greatly in the racing community. It opens in theaters September 27.
"Rush" tells the story of the Formula 1 World Championship of 1976 and the front-running rivalry between polar-opposite personalities: Niki Lauda (played by Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (actor Chris Hemsworth). This championship went to the final race after the horrific near-fatal, mid-season crash and 45-day comeback by reigning '75 Champion Lauda.
Many of us followed this incredible Grand Prix season in person or in the retelling of history in books and magazines. In all, the Lauda/Hunt fight for the Championship in '76 was certainly worthy of a cinematic feature. "Rush" takes a concoction of director Howard, who's prior work has been above noteworthy; modern CGI effects and dual-protagonist characterization of the playboy-Brit Hunt and the methodical middle-European Lauda -- certainly enough to excite race fans. However, the question remains: could it be done to satisfy both the racing geek and the mainstream movie-goer?
Hallelujah! "Rush" succeeds where so many others have failed.
"Rush" tells the story with authenticity. The cars are period correct, the ensemble of drivers are well represented, the injuries and crashes are graphic, the iconic 1970s create a flashy backdrop and the characters' egos are believable. Race fans will be satisfied. For the layman, the story poses "Chariots of Fire" hero-vs-hero circumstances that will easily electrify the spirit -- with a mix of action that carries the film to greater heights.
Both Hunt and Lauda came from well-to-do families who shunned their racing ambitions and despite their differences in approach, really prove more commonality as the story develops. Both Bruhl and Hemsworth play the parts naturally, offering the viewer a real look at these 20th century knights on the field of battle. It was very clear that the two had deep respect for one another, and beneath their contentious facades laid true affection.
The overall tone of the film is dark. It was a tumultuous time in F1 when a driver knew the risks, and corporations, while beginning to make a splash in big-time sport had yet to put a stranglehold on the participants. "Rush" is stressful yet exhilarating, as the writer and director seem to have a clear understanding of the pressure cooker of F1 with a dose of natural, but not overbearing, Hollywood artistic license.
If you haven't been to the movies for a long time, "Rush" on the big screen might just be the reason to break your fast. Hats off to Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan for this authentic treatment of one of F1's greatest rivalries. (Running time: 123 minutes)
-- Reviewed by Tom Stahler