[Screen It]

"RUSH"
(2013) (Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Two 1970s era egotistical drivers compete for first place in the world of Formula One racing.
PLOT:
It's the early 1970s and James Hunt (CHRIS HEMSWORTH) and Niki Lauda (DANIEL BRUHL) have already established their rivalry in Formula 3 racing. While both are egotistical about their talents, James is the fun-loving playboy who enjoys driving fast and cheating death, while Niki is more reserved and analytical, and spends as much time working on his cars' performance as he does on himself.

Both eventually make their way into the highly coveted Formula 1 racing circuit and compete against each other over the years, with James meeting and then marrying model Suzy Miller (OLIVIA WILDE), while Niki manages to win over Marlene (ALEXANDRA MARIA LARA) who falls for him despite his lack of charming social skills.

The men's rivalry culminates in the 1976 Grands Prix, a series of races around the world where the driver with the most combined points ends up as the annual winner. With Niki being the current champion, James pushes himself to overtake and upstage his rival, a motivation that drives both racers to their limits.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Back when I was little and kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, the standard array of answers would flow forth. Some wanted to be firemen. Others police men or teachers. Occasionally there'd be the more adventurous answer of being an astronaut or professional ball player. For yours truly, it was to be a race car driver.

I have no idea how or why that early obsession started, as the nearby track that would eventually become the Richmond International Raceway (home of two NASCAR races) was just a dirt course supplement to the Virginia State Fairgrounds at that time. Whatever the case, I was an Indy 500 fanatic and always plugged my ears if any reporting of who won the big race was announced before the race was shown on TV, tape delayed, that night.

There is no recollection of how my parents felt about that, but I clearly recall my grandmother being horrified of the thought, what with the involved speeds, close calls and spectacular crashes that seemed to occur every year. Yet, for all of my fascination with the sport and its drivers (the Unser brothers were my favorite, while I always liked the sound of Mario Andretti's name as it was so exotic for my young Richmond years), I had little interest in or knowledge about Formula One racing, probably because there was next to no coverage of it on TV way back when, at least that I recall. Even to this day, the sport -- that's quite popular abroad -- still takes a back seat in the U.S. to the annual Indy race and certainly to the popularity beast that NASCAR has become.

Thus, I had no knowledge of the historic Formula One rivalry between real-life drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda back in the 1970s. Their story and a look at such sports rivalries are what fuels "Rush," director Ron Howard's loving if unflinching look at the sport and the men who rode it to great success. Working from a script by Peter Morgan ("Frost/Nixon," "The Queen), the filmmaker has delivered a pic that looks and feels as if it had been made back in the days before disco, and both racing fans and those who don't get the sport should find it to be a compelling and engaging tale.

Featuring bookend narration by Lauda (Daniel Bruhl, nailing the part), the film briefly kicks off in 1976 and then rewinds six years to when that Austrian racer and British driver Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, certainly looking and embodying the part with real gusto) were early competitors in Formula 3 racing. Like Ali & Frazier and Borg & McEnroe, the two initially seem to despise each other and are perpetually pushing themselves to be better and thus defeat their competitor. And like those men, they have wildly different styles and personalities but huge egos, with Lauda touting his know-how and steely reserve while Hunt simply enjoys the speed, playboy lifestyle and pushing himself and his cars into the face of death.

As those other rivals and those who've studied them have stated, they wouldn't have been as good as they ended up without that fierce competition and thus the two drivers end up coming to respect and even admire each other, although rarely publically. And that's really the main gist and substance of the film that follows the men's rivalry over a number of years (although some romance subplots do pop up courtesy of Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara playing the men's spouses).

While that might sound about as exciting as watching race car drivers going 'round and 'round and 'round the track to non fans (who might not understand the different course layout structure of Formula One racing), Howard and company manage to keep it interesting from start to finish. And that's due to strong performances from the leads, excellent tech credits (the editing and cinematography are superb), and Howard's sure hand behind the wheel of this cinematic vehicle.

I actually ended up caring about the main characters (something that's becoming ever more rare in today's studio pics) and how things would unfold, with Lauda's closing voice-over narration nicely tying up the themes and emotions of what we've seen play out over the slightly more than two hour runtime. Considering the track record of racing movies at the box office, this one's likely going to be a hard sell for most moviegoers. But if you give "Rush" the opportunity to take you for a spin, I think you'll be glad to go along for the ride. The film rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed September 23, 2013 / Posted September 27, 2013


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