For most Formula One drivers, the endorphin rush from being on the brink of death during every race keeps them coming back for more.
Running time: 123 min.
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara
Zooming around ornately-constructed circuits at 180 mph is a profession that, from 1950 to 1980, produced over 40 deaths and even more serious injuries.
Yet James Hunt and Nicki Lauda — the preeminent racing rivalry of the 1970s and the subject of Ron Howard’s latest histrionically historical film — can’t seem to stay away from the lure of competition and self-destruction.
Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) is a handsome hothead from Britain notorious as a wildly erratic but daring driver. On the other end of the spectrum is Lauda (Daniel Brühl), a poised and focused Austrian racer, determined to eviscerate any competitor who dares to challenge him.
After duking it out in the minor leagues of Formula Three for a couple of years, the two racers concurrently get bumped up to Formula One.
Thrust upon the center stage, the pair’s fiery rivalry is enlivened and heightened beyond all proportion. Hemsworth and Brühl are immediately convincing as rivals who generally disdain one another yet maintain a semblance of mutual respect.
Screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) successfully creates a stark contrast between these two personalities, each with their own antithetical world views.
Hunt is a hedonist, thrilled by the thought of winning, but even more by making love to myriad women, finding pleasure through other avenues of life, and relishing in the fame and fortune.
Conversely, Lauda is an ascetic – determined, self-disciplined, and obsessively immersed in the art of racing.
The duo’s diametric philosophies on life not only bleed into their racing, but their love lives. Suzy Miller (Olivia Miller) is a budding model introduced to Hunt in one scene and married to him in the next.
A similar haphazard courtship applies to Lauda, who meets and marries Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) almost instantaneously.
In fact, every scene in which the two protagonists are forced to interact with their respective lovers completely interrupts any rhythm of the film. The romantic relationships, like much of the film, come off as artificial.
This issue has recurred for Howard. The famed director has a certain neutered aesthetic that actively veers away from thoughtfully diving into its characters.
Everything in Rush is surface level material, detached from the action. Thus, any and all moments of pathos feel calculated, not earned.
Most troubling about Rush is the director’s ostensible disinterest in the material on screen. Hunt, Lauda, and every thrill-seeking competitor in Formula One is compelled to race by the power of competition and their affinity for the sport. But what compelled Ron Howard to helm this movie?
Uninspired from top to bottom, the only saving grace of Rush (aside from Hemsworth and Brühl’s leading performances) are the enthralling racing sequences.
But even those sequences inevitably turn grating. All the tension in the movie ultimately dissipates as fast as the flimsy romantic relationships.
By the time we reach 1976, we’ve been through too much with characters we don’t care about enough to build up any interest in the film’s resolution.
Which, at 123 minutes, feels like a lifetime of mediocre filmmaking masquerading as “powerful” storytelling.
Where films like Frost/Nixon and Apollo 13 flourished in its detail and intimacy of history, Rush fails as a dull and rudimentary examination of the past.