THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
It felt odd that Rush wasn't working for me. The movie is filled with strong performances. It has a stylish, atmospheric look that is well suited to the subject matter. There's a ton of ambition on display. What's to gripe about? And yet, there were times when I slunk down in my theater seat, feeling restless. Or looked at my watch. Or found my mind wandering. For as technically well-made as Rush is, it's also kind of boring. And in some ways, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: it doesn't look or feel like a Ron Howard film. By that, I mean that the director goes for something edgier than normal (there's a surprising amount of sex/nudity, for instance), but also leaves out the universal, relatable qualities that mark his best work.
Rush is based on the true story of Formula One driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and his rivalry with fellow driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). Hunt is an arrogant playboy who adores fame and notoriety. Lauda is arrogant, too, but more in an “I want to push myself further” kind of way. They compete on the circuit together, with Lauda initially prevailing. Then Hunt uses his fearlessness – some would say recklessness - to push his way onto a team sponsored by Ferrari, which gives him a faster car and a real chance to beat his rival. Over the course of six years, the two men spar, both verbally and in vehicles, before an incident takes place that changes the course of their competition permanently.
Without a doubt, the best thing about this movie is the sensory experience it gives you. Howard and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle provide Rush with a muted, washed-out color scheme that emphasizes things like a splash of oil on a race track or the exhaust spewing out of a car's tailpipe. The sound editing, meanwhile, is phenomenal. Loud and aggressive, it often makes you feel as though you are standing in the middle of a racetrack, cars whizzing past you at top speed. Hans Zimmer's brilliant musical score heightens the impact.
While Hemsworth and (especially) Bruhl are both outstanding in their roles, the thing about Rush that left me cold is that it doesn't do much to show us why Hunt and Lauda have this rivalry. They just do, and we're supposed to take it at face value. Yes, both want to win, but there are other drivers on the track with whom the competitiveness is not so pronounced. Why have they gravitated toward each other? At times, Peter Morgan's screenplay starts to suggest that Hunt and Lauda secretly want what the other has in life, yet that idea is never explored to a satisfactory degree.
Whenever the movie gets off the track, it really slows down. There are attempts to deal with Hunt's troubled marriage and Lauda's conflict with his father, but such little time is spent on these things that they make no impact. In one scene, Hunt meets model Suzy Miller (a thoroughly wasted Olivia Wilde). In the next scene, they're married. A short time later, with very few moments devoted to showing the strain in their union, she's leaving him. It's nice to have a taste of what these men's lives are like away from the sport, but with two main characters needing that sort of breadth, there simply isn't much time to achieve the needed relevance. As such, it often feels as though the movie is taking detours that lead nowhere.
It is easy to admire Rush from a distance. It looks and sounds great. The acting is good. The racing sequences are fantastic. Look closer, though, and you see that it's all quite underwhelming without a strong center or a reason to really care about Hunt and Lauda. The best biopics make the viewer understand why the subject is important to them, even if it's not. They find a universality in the topic that sucks you in. Rush never does that. Formula One fans will love it; others may end up shrugging their shoulders, as I did.
( 1/2 out of four)
Rush is rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use. The running time is 2 hour and 3 minutes.
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