The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Rush (2013)

So do we have any auto racing fans out there? Nascar, Formula One, dirt track races, drag racing, anything? I've never been a fan, never been able to sit down and watch a race on TV from beginning to end. On the other hand, I love racing movies from older gems like Grand Prix and Le Mans to more current movies like the Fast and the Furious series. Released in theaters last year to basically uniformally positive reviews and a decent box box, 2013's Rush is one of the best racing movies out there.

It's 1970 and two young drivers, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), are trying to make it from Formula 3 racing to the Formula 1 circuit. The two racers are complete polar opposites, James a smooth, charming ladies man with an incredible knack for racing, Niki the perfectionist who works incessantly at being the best driver he can be. Going down vastly different routes, both James and Niki make it to the pinnacle, finally getting to Formula One. Niki even wins the 1975 World Championship at the circuit's best racer. It all seems primed for the 1976 season, Niki signed with Ferrari while Hunt works with McLaren, both drivers at their prime with the best possible cars to drive and staffs to keep the cars driving at an optimum level. Can this rivalry be pushed too far though? How far will each man go to ensure a win?

What a really, really good movie. One of the most positive things to take away from this movie? Ron Howard is directing! He's had a relative rough patch of late recently, movies that didn't seem up to his talents like The Dilemma or the Dan Brown movies, The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons. Even considering his career films, 'Rush' seems like a bit of a departure for Howard, but that's a positive. A big positive. There is a hard-edge here to the story from the personal interactions to the intensity, even smaller things like language or nudity (Hemsworth does a nude scene. You're welcome, ladies). The story from Peter Morgan's script is a nice fit for a 123-minute long movie. It covers almost six full years but hits the necessary moments without feeling rushed, much of the focus on the 1976 season. There's not one high-reaching thing 'Rush' does well, one huge thing that sets it apart from the field. It just does a lot of things really well.

Nowhere is that more evident than the two leads, Hemsworth and Bruhl, and for different reasons. Making a name for himself as Thor in the Avengers movies, it's hard to believe Hemsworth has only been in the public eye for a handful of years. Bruhl is a less well-known actor probably most known to American audiences because of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Their on-screen chemistry is the heart of the movie. It's not a hatred between the two men, just an intense, palpable rivalry that at times brings out the best and worst in them. Within sports, rivalries fuel it all, and when it is individuals more than teams -- especially in a film -- it works better. Bruhl even picked up some Oscar buzz for his performance here but ultimately didn't get a nomination for his past as Niki Lauda. SPOILERS Don't read the Wikipedia biography if you don't want to know where the movie heads. SPOILERS

It just works, the pairing between Hemsworth and Bruhl. The two men are different, but they've got more in common than they probably want to admit. Watching a movie about either man would have been intensely interesting so seeing the Formula 1 season play out between the two of them is even better. I'm struggling to explain it, but it's just a good dynamic. They don't hate each other -- maybe intensely dislike -- but for the most part their confrontations are hard-edged and brutal...with smiles on their faces. Through it all, there is a mutual respect that grows between the two men, something grown out of a profession that is inherently dangerous (Lauda's narration claims 2 drivers die a year) as the drivers live on the edge with each race. They push each other to the absolute limit, their intense desire to win becoming obsessive. It wears on their persona lives, their relationships, everything. Kudos to Hemsworth and Bruhl.

The focus is almost entirely on that duo, Olivia Wilde making an almost cameo-like appearance as Hunt's wife, and Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene, Niki's wife who questions if he can ever be invested in a marriage. Pierfrancesco Favino is solid as a rival Ferrari driver, but the rest of the cast is almost entirely background. We meet some of the backers, the pit crew, but nothing in depth.

What works so well beyond the casting is the racing sequences. Stylish and edited at a freaky fast pace, these sequences are still easy to follow. Because 'Rush' covers so much ground, there's only that one big race, most of the build-up a quick, hard-hitting race that isn't wasting any time. The finale is a gem, the race for the World Championship coming down to one final go on a rainy, almost suicidal course, Nurburgring. The races have an almost washed-out look that stylistically works surprisingly well. Howard filmed on many of the courses where the story is set, acquiring a bunch of vintage cars. The 1970s setting definitely adds to the proceedings as does composer Hans Zimmer's score. There wasn't one huge theme that stuck out for me, but it's a great score that adds a lot to the racing sequences. I was impressed especially because it tries to do so much as a score, not just big, booming epic music.

An excellent movie all-around. Well worth tracking down. Without any knowledge of the actual history, the story surprised me, especially one decision Lauda makes that greatly affects everyone on the circuit, including Hunt. Crazy to think this actually happened, Howard more than doing it justice.

Rush (2013): *** 1/2 /****

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