Ron Howard Goes 'Vroom Vroom!'

(USA/Germany/UK, 123 min.)
Dir. Ron Howard, Writ. Peter Morgan
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara.
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl in Rush an eOne Films release.
Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk and eOne Films

Vroom Vroom! One Fast and the Furious film was too many, but seven more laps of Rush would be a welcome addition to the multiplex. Ron Howard’s latest pic, which recently opened in theatres after a hot premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, feels as wild and real as racing gets. Thanks to Howard’s solid realization of the sport and a pair of strong performances from leads Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers) and Daniel Brühl (Winning Streak) as real-life racing rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda, Rush puts viewers behind the wheel and lets them experience the thrill and intensity of Formula 1 racing.

Ron Howard re-teams with Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan and delivers one of his best films yet with Rush. Morgan, taking the true-life story of drivers Hunt and Lauda, crafts a compelling character study about two polar opposites who saw a neck and neck competitiveness on the road to the 1976 World Championship. Rush isn’t so much about the race as it is about the drive to win.

The battle for cup and glory couldn’t be more intriguing given the different speedsters Morgan presents. Hunt, a rogue British playboy, slurps oysters at the track and mentally prepares himself with good times and threesomes. He’s like a boy with toys. (A fact that Rush accentuates perfectly by seating a sulking Mr. Hunt with his toy track.) The Austrian Lauda, on the other hand, is a no-fun stickler. He approaches the race with clinical calculation. One driver feels the race while the other studies it. Both men have what it takes to win, but there’s an utterly different philosophy underlying their quests for glory.

Their attitude for sport, likewise, mirrors their approach to women. Hunt amasses lady friends like he does trophies, but he finds himself caught up on Suzy (Olivia Wilde, Third Person), the girl he marries and the woman who emasculates him in the public eye. Recklessness in one arena doesn’t always transfer well to the other. Lauda is just as reserved and cautious in love as he is in sport when he proposes to Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara, Downfall). He offers just about the least romantic vow one can imagine, saying, “If I’m going to do this with someone, it might as well be you.” The love lives of Hunt and Lauda, though, give them just the right drive and/or anchoring to make them equals.

The race to the championship climaxes with the accident that saw Lauda crash and burn while taking a turn on the soggy track at Nürburgring, Germany. Lauda, methodically aware of the safety precautions in racing, suggested a boycott of the race but was voted down by the drivers. Naturally, Hunt was his most vocal opponent in the vote being the driver who had the most to lose by a forfeit of the race. The fateful crash, which transforms Brühl as a burn survivor in an effective make-up job, offers a crux for both drivers and redefines how they see the sport—and each other—when a race for first means one’s life is on the line.

It’s the battle of wits that makes Rush consistently exhilarating. The few racing scenes that do appear are indeed spectacular and full credit is due to Howard and his pit crew. As shot by Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), these trips around the track are wild, sexy adventures. The camera gives viewers a point-of-view account from the driver’s seat and lets one see the dangers of the race and, more greatly, experience the thrill of being alive that comes with weaving in and out of danger as cars collide on the track. The editing by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill (Oscar winners for Apollo 13, and Howard collaborators on A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon, among other) is an adrenaline-pumping feat that switches gears between the human drama and the action of the race without lifting its foot off either pedal. The real star of t Rush, as good as Hemsworth and Brühl are, might be the phenomenal sound design that surrounds viewers in the deafening, heart-racing revving of the Formula 1 action. Rush deserves to be seen on the biggest screen in the loudest theatre one can find.

Rush is a thrilling film not just about the rush of a sport, but of the mindset it conveys of the need to go the distance and love the race at the same time. The film lets viewers alternate seats and drive on both sides of the road as they explore two disparate, yet equally compelling and driven competitors. The human drama fuels the race and makes each lap more involving and gut-wrenching in turn. Rush is full-throttle entertainment unlike anything Howard has done before.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Rush is currently playing in wide release.