You don’t have to know about Formula 1 to enjoy this character drama
Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 16:10
Rush is not the sort of film I would usually watch. I have very little interest in sports to begin with, and motorsports in particular are fairly dull to the uneducated. Add to that the setting—a 1970s romp set against the backdrop of Formula 1—and you’ve got a movie about a motorsport when it was exclusively for snooty, wealthy Europeans; the polo of car racing.
What we have here isn’t a sports movie, however. It’s a drama based on the real-life rivalry between Englishman James Hunt and Austria Niki Lauda, which culminated in a crash and fire that permanently scared much of Lauda’s face.
The two rivals were polar opposites both on and off the track, and that is displayed brilliantly in Rush.
Hunt is a hothead—a rock star that views women as objects, and his own body as a bumper cart. His antics make him incredibly endearing to some, but only for a short time. Lauda, by contrast, collected, an engineering genius and completely insufferable.
The conflict between the two is fundamental. They are two opposing philosophies of nature, and the film is smart enough to present them as such. It lends them a larger than life stature, making them important even to those who couldn’t care less about Formula 1, and makes them seem like something more than sportsmen.
The fundamental nature of the characters has another benefit. Without the need to explain their personal friction, the movie fittingly blazes ahead in terms of pacing. Six years are boiled down to roughly two hours without feeling shallow. The men move quickly, so the film moves quickly to keep up.
The actual racing is kept to a bare minimum to match the speed of the drama, which makes it all the more exciting when the dangers of the sport are shown in their full light. A particularly gruesome scene towards the beginning sets the tone, and Lauda constantly reminds us that every Formula 1 driver has a one in five chance of going home in a body bag. Knowing his eventual fate actually heightens the tension, as the viewer knows what’s coming, and constantly braces for the final reveal.
Unfortunately, that moment falls a bit flat.
The build-up is astounding—more like a Sergio Leone western than a historical drama—but when we finally see Lauda’s crash, CGI rears its ugly head to ruin the moment.
Ron Howard directed the film Backdraft, which famously made fire seem like a living, malicious organism. Here, however, cartoon flames lick away the drama. It’s a small hiccup during a big moment, among 120 minutes of much stronger moments, but it’s a letdown nonetheless.
But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the rest of the film. It’s a high-speed, slickly shot, tense affair with hardly an ounce of fat that would have been better served on the editing room floor.
It’s probably not my film of the year, but it is one of the most exciting biographies you’ll see in a lifetime.