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Rush (2013), an exhilirating sports movie that doesn’t at all feel like a sports movie

October 4, 2013

MY CALL:  It’s not about racing, but it’s all about the race.  AMAZING.  [A]  FUN FACT: This is one of the only biographical movies I’ve ever seen in which an actor was made to look less attractive than the person he’s playing.  I’m referring to Daniel Brühl, a naturally handsome man, who was apparently rendered less comely by the make-up team to make him less likable.

In many ways Rush was nothing like what I expected.  When I think of driving/racing movies I think of The Transporter (2002), Fast Five (2011), Driven (2001) or Drive (2011).  While these movies vary wildly in quality (some action movies, a competitive bro flick and a one legit film), they all have VERY exciting driving scenes.  These movies also feature some aging bro-mentor meets wildcard rookie moments (Driven), intense stoic Albert Brooks and head stomping scenes (Drive), some serious jump spin kicks bringing Hong Kong cinema to America (The Transporter) and an international pec dance-off between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel (Fast Five).  Sure, there are some heavy moments surrounding the driving scenes in all these movies.  But, far to the contrary, Rush‘s driving scenes were the least exciting scenes of the entire film…and in no way is this to the film’s detriment.

Rush chronicles the ascension of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth; Snow White and the Huntsman, The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl; Inglorious Bastards, The Countess) from their humble Formula 3 beginnings up to the contentious glory of Formula One.  Their actions and dialogue, whether to, about or because of one another, illustrate their dependence on each other which subsequently fuels their  addiction to competition.  Each minute of this movie is every bit a duel as Rocky versus Ivan Drago and they bring out the very best (and the very worst) in each other.

But this “race car” movie hardly focuses on “action” or “racing” at all.  But it is every bit about the intensity “of” the race…and the rush experienced by its competitors.  This film is about the relationship and rivalry between of Hunt and Lauda, not the engines behind which they sit.  As such, while almost every scene is effective and elicits sneers, gasps, laughs or sympathy–none of the major action or excitement takes place while the cars are actually moving.  Quite to the contrary, the drivers rev their engines and scream around the track as Hans Zimmer’s soulful score builds to something powerful.  However, the crescendo is not found in gasp-worthy maneuvers or photo finishes.  It’s what happens when the cars “aren’t” racing that is exciting.  The drama and humor finds us “before” setting foot in the car.  Frustrations and conflict are expressed when the cars pit.  And your greatest shock occurs not in anticipation of a crash, nor at the devastating contact of it.  No…  The heaviest moments in this film occur during the 90 seconds “after” the collision that leads to the crash and “after” the car has come to a complete stop!  Yet more intensity is found as Lauda perseveres and recovers from irrecoverable injuries driven to resume his race against Hunt for the 1976 championship.  You may not find it with the wind blowing through your hair on a sun-soaked day, but you will feel the rush and see the magnitude of the races through a different lens altogether.

The shots in the rain were the most powerful.

Here Hunt (Hemsworth) looks back to Lauda (Brühl), who wanted to cancel a race due to dangerous track conditions. Being that Lauda was leading the season in points, Hunt protested.

But still, the cinematography does its part, seizing the drivers’ hesitation with stunning rainy competition shots, speeding fish-eye lens framing and grounded POV angles.

Playing the three-time champ Lauda, Daniel Brühl masters his role as the rigid, obsessive, friendless and charmless Austrian.  His tactful brilliance oozed a preternaturally meticulous fluency of all things racing–from track to engine and from the car to the man.

Calculating…

“I learn far more from my enemies than from my friends.”

Lauda’s complete opposite, Chris Hemsworth champions the devilishly charming Brit, James Hunt.  Whereas Lauda remains determined, never letting his victories blur his focus, Hunt basks in international success, sexual conquest and alcoholic bliss.  It’s a wonder his cause of death wasn’t being crushed to death under a pile of beautiful women.  The press and the ladies alike adore this dashing silver-tongued hero.

Loving life…

A cameo by Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, Captain America: The First Avenger) swiftly ignites the screen with Hunt’s sexuality.  But as the film shifts from ascension to harsh conflict, Olivia Wilde (The Change-Up, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) assume the role of supermodel Suzy Miller.  As Hunt’s wife, however briefly and tragic their marriage, she serves as little more than an emotionless frame depicting from within the image of Hunt’s downward spiral.  Serving quite a different purpose as Marlene Lauda, Alexandra Maria Lara breathes life into Niki Lauda, humanizing his otherwise coarse persona and bringing him to the realization that greater happiness can be found off the track than forever chasing the next technical victory on the horizon.  Without her, he’d never truly understand the “sacrifices” he so vehemently preaches to Hunt–or when they mount to high.

Photo (real) of Lauda and Hunt after Lauda’s crash and recovery.

This is a film that will make you “feel.”  You’ll traverse most emotions of the human spectrum.  But most importantly, the start and the finish will find you feeling elated.

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