Thursday, July 24, 2014

‘Rush’: Quite a ride!


The calm before the storm: No love is lost between rival racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, foreground left) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), each determined to out-drive the other en route to a Formula 1 World Championship. But that isn't the whole story by any means: Their saga is the stuff of sports legend. Courtesy photo

From page A9 | September 27, 2013 |


Four stars

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilder, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino, Christian McKay, Julian Rhind-Tutt

Rating: R, for profanity, nudity, sexual content, brief drug use and disturbing images

Famed racetrack rivalry depicted in well-scripted drama

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

Friends tell you what you want to hear. Enemies tell you what you need to know.

Director Ron Howard’s “Rush” isn’t merely the fact-based account of an intriguing sports rivalry; it’s also the most exciting auto racing movie to roar into theaters since 1971’s “Le Mans” … which, given Steve McQueen’s passion for authenticity and the superb efforts of cinematographers René Guissart Jr. and Robert B. Hauser — not to mention a team of five (!) editors — is high praise indeed.

No matter. Howard’s collaborators — cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill — are up for the challenge. They’re also given a sensational assist by sound designers Danny Hambrook and Markus Stemler, whose ear-splitting attention to detail delivers everything except the pungent, eye-watering stench of high-octane fuel. Which you’ll probably imagine anyway.

But while the visceral exhilaration is palpable, it’s mere backdrop; this film gets its emotional heft from the fascinating narrative crafted by British scripter Peter Morgan, whose well-deserved Academy Award nominations for “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen” — not to mention his work on “The Last King of Scotland,” “The Damned United” and quite a few others — demonstrate considerable skill when it comes to sketching characters through well-composed dialogue.

James Simon Wallis Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth), British to the core, and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) meet — and immediately clash — as ambitious Formula 3 drivers. They couldn’t be more different: Hunt is a womanizing, hedonistic toff who wears flamboyant aristocratic superiority like a cloak, while Lauda is solemn, remote and blunt to the point of insolence. Hunt is the pluperfect London playboy, Lauda the Teutonic precision; neither apologizes for his behavior, or would think of doing so.

But they both take racing seriously, albeit from different sensibilities. Hunt is as bold and reckless on the track as in real life, embracing the challenge for its romantic, death-defying aura; Lauda, meticulous to a fault, calculates odds and works them to his favor. Hunt relies on the largess of sponsors he can impress; Lauda drives mechanics crazy by ordering design changes … which inevitably prove advantageous.

As a result, Morgan’s script focuses on the attitude of racing, as much as the sport itself. At a time when drivers were expected to die every season — as Brühl’s Lauda informs us, in his dryly ironic, off-camera narration — professional racers truly were a breed apart.

Casting director Nina Gold did a sensational job, as both Hemsworth and Brühl look, sound and move very much like the real Hunt and Lauda. The physical similarities are truly striking, but of course it’s deeper than that.

Anybody who thus far has dismissed Hemsworth as little more than a pretty face, based on bombastic fluff such as “Snow White and the Huntsman” and his ongoing role as the Asgardian Thor, needs to reassess; Hemsworth nails the blithe insolence of, say, Peter O’Toole in his prime. This portrayal of Hunt is charismatic to the point of bewitchery; we can’t help admiring the man despite his obvious superficiality.

The Spanish-born Brühl is unlikely to be recognized on these shores, aside from his supporting performance in 2007’s “Inglourious Basterds,” but I suspect that’s about to change. His Lauda displays his ferret-faced features proudly, even defiantly, no doubt operating from the belief that one cannot be teased or humiliated by others, if you pre-emptively remove their ammunition. Lauda is chill psychology and intellectual arrogance, an attitude that Brühl conveys perfectly.

As a result, although Lauda is equally hard to like, he emerges here as the underdog … even though, as the two men graduate to Formula 1 racing and engage in the very public antagonism that fueled press coverage during the early 1970s, he certainly doesn’t need the sympathy. When Lauda blasts past Hunt in order to win the 1975 World Championship, it seems a triumph of intellect over emotion. But of course Hunt, finishing fourth, isn’t about to slink off quietly. There’s always another season.

The rich fascination of Morgan’s script, and the marvelous subtlety of Hemsworth and Brühl’s performances, are best defined by our dawning realization that — somewhere along the line, almost without our awareness — enmity blossoms into respect. As the 1976 season begins, the two men still don’t like each other, but their mutual regard has shifted. Glances toward each other become more reflective, less hostile; clipped conversations are less contemptuous, more … well … collaborative.

Racing fans well remember what happened during that tempestuous 1976 season, and I’ll not spoil the suspense here, for the benefit of viewers lucky enough to come to this story cold. But that’ll be a difficult feat, since Lauda has been highly visible for the past month, and likely will remain so between now and Oscar season. Hunt, sadly if perhaps predictably, died from a heart attack in 1993, at the age of 45.

The supporting performances are equally strong. Olivia Wilde, whose smoldering, come-hither sensuality literally drips off the screen, is well cast as free-spirited professional model Suzy Miller, whose jaw-dropping 1974 marriage to Hunt made headlines around the world. We’re certainly not surprised when this relationship doesn’t last, although Miller’s subsequent husband will raise your eyebrows.

Despite this, Wilde shades Miller generously, suggesting that she feels deep affection for Hunt, his glaring flaws notwithstanding.

Romanian-born Alexandra Maria Lara is even more engaging as Marlene, the woman who catches Lauda’s eye during a meet-cute sequence that Howard stages for maximum amusement. If it truly happened this way, you couldn’t imagine a better first encounter; either way, it’s a great movie moment.

Lara gets considerable screen time, and Marlene’s presence clearly changes Lauda. Their most powerful conversation also is the calmest, as Lauda reflectively confesses that happiness may have crippled him; henceforth, every time he squeezes into a race car, he’ll know that he has something to lose. The expression on Lara’s face, at this moment, is heartbreaking; we understand that Marlene suddenly wonders if loving her new husband is such a good thing after all.

Cinematographer Dod Mantle won an Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire,” and his camerawork here is sensational. Quite inventive, as well, with cameras fastened to racers’ helmets, in order to place us, quite literally, in the drivers’ seats. Mantle also cross-cuts between dozens of camera set-ups, in order to convey the raw intensity of the racetrack footage; Howard, in turn, blends these many images for maximum excitement.

“Rush” is a solid sports drama about two genuinely fascinating road warriors. Monday evening’s preview screening drew applause as the closing credits appeared, and I’m not the slightest bit surprised.

Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at Comment on this review at


Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    Ag officials predict bumper almond crop

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Teens lead the way in fight against cancer

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Victim of fatal crash identified

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Official: Air Algerie flight ‘probably crashed’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    New-home sales plummet in June

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    CSU pumps brakes on enrollment growth

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Diplomas all around for professor and sons

    By Dave Jones | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Consumption guidelines for Cache Creek fish updated

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A3

    Local singer/songwriter will perform Friday on KDRT

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Davis Flea hosts night market Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Free technology help offered to seniors

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Contestants sought for Yolo County Fair Queen contest

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Parents can learn all about IEPs

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Museum sells market bags as fundraiser

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    City of Davis recruits for its advisory commissions

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Colleges woo Native Americans with new programs

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Zip Book: Request it, read it, return it

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8



    Battle lines are drawn

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    Don’t tell me I can’t help him

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Water trains through Davis

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 2 Comments

    Water storage must be a priority

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

    Act now to support middle school students

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6



    UCD coach has navigated a Maze of experiences

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Lethargic and roster-thin, Post 77 loses Area 1 opener

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

    Pence outscores Phillies

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Quincy Amarikwa: years in the making

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Area sports briefs: Nelson earns All-Academic honors

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

    Youth roundup: Aftershock finishes second in tournament

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

    Majka makes winning look easy

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B10 | Gallery



    Name Droppers: Transportation fellowship goes to Aggie

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8



    ‘South Pacific’ storyline still making waves

    By Bev Sykes | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    ‘The Miracle Worker’ auditions set for WOH

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7





    Death notice: James Thomas Feather

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A2



    Comics: Thursday, July 24, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8