Dissecting Rush: Biopicing at 200 MPH

Ron Howard returns to form with Rush, a solid dueling biopic that captures the intensity of F1 Racing even if it isn’t coherent and gets a great performance out of Daniel Brühl.

Zac: Racing isn’t my thing, but Rush isn’t about racing as much it is about a friendly, antagonistic relationship between two guys competing to be the best at what they do. Howard sprinkles his cast with a couple of friendly faces, but he mostly leans on the tight script from Peter Morgan to keep this film moving and firing on all cylinders (I’m sorry). We quickly watch our two protagonists, James Hunt and Niki Lauda, climb the ranks of Formula Racing or woo the women they love and while it barely tries to bend the biopic formula, it executes the genre extremely well.

***Spoilers from here on out!***

Lauren: Simple enough.

The things that this film has going against it is actually the characters themselves in many ways. Chris Hemsworth can charm the pants off of anyone as far as I am concerned, but the way his character treats Olivia Wilde puts a big negative on his pros and cons list. His lack of morals doesn’t really help him win me over, but he is fun to watch when it comes to how he feels about what he does for a living. On the opposite hand, David Bruhl’s Niki Lauda is a man of calm confidence, with an unfriendly (well, not unfriendly so much as just not outwardly friendly) attitude that keeps me standoffish as well. I liked them both fair enough, but it wasn’t until the tragic accident that I started really rooting for either of them again. Above all, it really is the rivalry that kept me interested in the story, and how the two feed off each other. Favorite moment? Hunt beating up the reporter for asking Lauda an incredibly insensitive question at the press conference.

That’s why in the end I actually have problems with how Howard decide to tie the story up. Honestly, I would have preferred the cut off to the story to be in the plane hanger with Lauda trying to push Hunt towards taking preparations for next year because having an “enemy” on equal footing is what fuels him to compete at his best. This moment puts a nice bow on the rivalry, which had almost magically invested me in this movie. Without it, the film would have been nothing, and that’s why I was bummed with how the film actually ends. Howard chooses to go the route that reminds us that this is based on true events, explaining that after this year Hunt soon after retired from racing and because a boring broadcaster or something like that. And then he died. Gone is the magic! I know it is a real story, but why not let the magic stick around and let us fill in the gaps? It’s not like I knew these two racers before seeing the film, so I would have much rather had the future been left to my imagination, imagining these two still alive today racing down nursing home hallways in wheelchairs.

Zac: I could see that, but I was intrigued by the real life story and was happy to have those few tidbits of reality. We are talking about two minutes of the movie here, and I guess I would have been cool with a little text on screen, but I think the film keeps the magic by showing where these guys ended up. Plus, what did you expect from a biopic that was so rigid to the formula before it?

The women do get short changed here at every turn and I actually think a longer, slower look into their relationships could have elevated the film higher. Both female leads, Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara, are fine in their roles, but neither is given anything to do besides cheer or break up with their man. Poor ladies.

Brühl is fantastic here though, and he is hilarious as the curmudgeon tactician that Lauda was. He and Hemsworth have great chemistry with one another and the playful rivalry worked for me, as well as it did for you. Brühl steals the show from our first scene with him and Howard does a great job of balancing these two personalities which could probably get grating if this was solely about one or the other.

Speaking of Howard, this film feels unlike anything he has done before and while the action is not very coherent the intensity of these guys racing is wonderfully captured. I would have loved to see a bit more of the race footage they glide over, but Howard was saving it for when he needed it most and the last couple of races keeps the tension high because it’s our first extended time on the track.

Lauren: I was happy with the action for the most part, but I will say that I did get a little irritated with the use of close ups of car parts littered in throughout the races, as if just to break up the imagery. It just took me out of it at many moments, especially in the race where we already know that something horrible is going to happen based on the story that has led up to that point (including how the film starts). I can understand why it felt necessary to put closeups in on the parts about to come apart, but we just had a scene in which Lauda was showing off his skills at reading the problems in a car with his intelligent derriere. So why not trust this actor (who I will agree was amazing) to carry the scene with his eyes in order to get the point across that something is about to go down? Maybe this isn’t doable, but I would like to see that cut anyway.

Also, I agree with the action being incoherent, but for me it has to do with the appearance. I don’t know how much of the action was real and how much was computer generated, but there were definitely moments during the races in which I was reminded of the look of current gen car racing video games. Which is why I think I may have liked the races in the rain the most, especially the last one. The scope of the race was restricted because of the weather, so there could not be these overhead choreographed dances as a driver tries to pass another. This would have helped depict what what Hunt was doing as he tries to come back in the race, but in the end it really isn’t about that. I honestly couldn’t have cared less about who won because I didn’t know who to root for, but I was rooting for the rivalry, and one of these men wasn’t even in the race for a lot of it. So there was no need for larger action and set pieces, the simpler, more focused moments were what mattered.

Zac: When it’s all said and done, Rush is an entertaining time at the theater. Every facet of the film is executed well, but Brühl is the only thing that really rises above being just good. Still, the film is an easy recommendation to just about anyone as you don’t need to be a racing or a sports fan to have fun with this film. Plenty of good performances, a fine sense of humor, tension when it needs it and Chris Hemsworth’s butt; what more do you want from Rush?

Zac & Lauren’s Final Grade: B

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