There’s a dilemma about any “based on a true story” film. First, the movie has to work for those unfamiliar with actual events, those neophytes completely unaware of actual historical facts. Most movies often coddle these people, spending far too much time situating plot with interminable exposition that it all becomes a bit pedantic.
Secondly, and ideally, the film should work at least as well for the person that already knows the nuts and bolts of the actual events, someone for whom the actual execution of the well known story is as pleasing as any moments of plot.
When a film gets this balance correct, when it works both for the person completely oblivious (or even actively dismissing) to the events that the film is based upon, as well as for the person completely immersed in the world that is being described on screen, then it becomes kind of a magical thing.
On these grounds, Rush, Ron Howard’s film about the Nikki Lauda/James Hunt dynamic during the 1976 Formula 1 season, isn’t just an enthralling film, an exciting cinematic spectacle full of drama and adrenaline-fueled racing sequences. Quite simply, it’s a film that manages to be, well, magical.
For the audience that couldn’t care less about people donning racing suits and putting their lives on the line, the film still works. Strong performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl make this a powerhouse of testosterone on screen. Witty dialogue, stylish editing, and impecable production design draws the viewers into the world of ’76 F1. The film shares an overall aesthetic with the likes of (my beloved) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a desaturated, notably gloss-free style that never feels intrusive or affected, merely authentic.
For the more rabid petrolhead, the film will border on the pornographically pleasing. 6 wheeled Tyrrell P34s, the banked slopes of the Nürburgring, and especially the cacophonous lion’s roar of the cars screeching past on the track all should arouse the passions of any fan. The attention to detail is often astonishing, yet never comes across as intrusive. We’re thrust into the world of racing during that time, not left to linger overlong on any specific detail, but for those attuned to the complexity of recreating this age, it’s a delightful thing to experience.
Howard has already pulled off this rare feat before, his Apollo 13 being one of those films that works effectively for any NASA nut or for an audience unfamiliar with the drama. While that film was a big, slick Hollywood extravaganza, Rush plays out more like a European film. It’s far less glossy, with an almost documentary feel, yet constructed in a way that elevates both the dramatic elements and the deep character development. I’d argue that Rush is at least A13‘s equal, certainly one of the best films Howard has ever helmed in his remarkably diverse career.
The script is from the Oscar nominated Peter Morgan (who also worked with Howard on Frost/Nixon), and it deserves much of the credit for maintaining a bristling pace while still being accessible and dramatically interesting. The scenario allows Brühl and Hemsworth plenty of opportunities for on-screen fireworks, yet it’s in their most intimate moments (sometimes done via a deft use of voiceover) that cements the film together.
The performances from the two leads are sure to grab attention come awards time – from a vocal perspective alone each inhabits their real-life characters in astonishing accurate ways, but without ever coming across as mere impersonation. Brühl is quickly rising to the top of any serious acting best-of list, while Hemsworth continues to impress with his range, far more than the two-dimensional superhero one of his build would normally be pigeonholed into. Both inhabit the story effectively, playing larger than life archetypes, yet doing so in a highly grounded way.
Zimmer’s music is suitably anthemic, and while the ending of the film has its clunky elements (drawn, likely much of the film, from what’s purportedly a real event), for the vast majority of the running time it’s a flawless match of melodrama, action, and character development.
The rush that Rush documents is of a far more sophisticated kind than the likes of the over-the-top ridiculousness of Days of Thunder, and easily lives up to the spirit of the best parts of Frankenheimer’s 1966 classic Grand Prix. Like the (fantastic) documentary Senna, this film may just in fact ignite in American audiences an appreciation for this pinnacle of the auto racing world, but I’m not holding my breath. Some remain content to see cars unable to turn right, circling booze-filled stadia while their flock wait for whatever crash is to occur.
With luck, this film will find the audience it deserves. Let me strongly suggest that you rush to see Rush in theatres when you can, for it is quite simply one of the prime cinematic experiences of the year.