Tuesday, September 24, 2013

RUSH: A Winning Rivalry

September 24, 2013

I almost passed on watching "Rush" because I am not really a fan of F1 car racing. However, very positive word of mouth egged me to squeeze it into my schedule. The buzz proved true -- this is one excellent film.  You do not need to be an F1 fan to enjoy this film.  This is more about the remarkable men the behind the wheel, than the cars themselves.

Austrian Niki Lauda is a straight-laced, super-serious and introverted man, already a world champion the year before. British James Hunt is a happy-go-lucky, smoking and drinking, and gregarious ladies man, looking for his first major title. During the 1976 F1 season, Niki (driving for Ferrari) was leading all the way on total points until a devastating event threatened not only his crown, but his life. Can Niki summon enough will to fight the mortal odds and recover in order to race to the finish, or will James (driving for McLaren) just be handed the cup of his dreams on a silver platter?

Even if we only see Chris Hemsworth's face in the poster as James Hunt, this film was more about Niki Lauda, played with devastating realism by Daniel Bruhl. I would not be surprised if Bruhl will be cited for Best Actor come awards season, and he should.  The charismatic Hemsworth displays the most mature acting he's done in his career.  The conflict between two racing arch-nemeses with contrasting personalities seemed to be too ideal a story to be true, but amazingly this film indeed was inspired by a real events. We would witness their relationship evolve from jealousy, enmity, challenge, admiration to respect.

Their relationships with the women in their lives were so well integrated into the mix in order to further delineate our two main characters off the track. James and his whirlwind marriage to New York-based model Suzy (Olivia Wilde) again contrasted perfectly with Niki and his calculated marriage to the elegant Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara). 

The racing scenes were very intense, so well-shot. Those scenes when you see the track in the point of view of the driver were amazing. You can smell not only the gas and the fumes, but the adrenaline rush in the air. You can feel the real danger as past accidents were shown in ominous graphic detail. These scenes will definitely be showered technical Oscar nominations for cinematography (with that nostalgic color palette), editing (thrilling cuts from track to cars down to engine parts), sound and sound effects mixing (brings us right there in the midst of the action). The production design with those vintage F1 cars and authentic-looking costumes also deserve mention.

Director Ron Howard takes full advantage of the inherent drama in these events to create a very tense and entertaining film, not only on the race tracks (from UK to Germany to Japan) , but also in their personal lives and their philosophies about winning. Even if I did not know Lauda and Hunt, I was drawn into their story complete with all the ingredients of epic action, drama, and romance. Howard does not lose control of his material as everything fell in its right place in the gripping final cut of the film. 9/10.

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