David reporting from TIFF in spirit though I'm an ocean away in person. Ron Howard's Rush premiered at the festival last night, but I got a sneak peek on my own shores so Nat didn't have to. Turns out, he might want to anyway...
Motor racing is a peculiar sport. Dangerous (formerly deadly even), impulsive and isolated, it’s often more about the beauty of the machines than the drivers for fans. Seeing the flash of the sleek cars go past is about all spectators actually present will do – the whole picture can only come across on screen. It’s less a sport than a spectacle.
This is what makes it, perhaps, an ideal subject for cinema, although it’s been far less exploited than most sports have over the past sixty years. Senna, Asif Kapadia’s 2010 documentary, thrillingly reproduced the story of its eponymous driver from archive footage, focusing particularly on his rivalry with fellow driver Alain Prost. It’s a similar competitive rivalry that drives Ron Howard’s latest blockbuster, the rather obviously titled Rush, which rewinds the F1 clock a little further to the 1970s. [more...]
James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, loving the plummy British accent) is a handsome driver waiting for his chance to join the big leagues; Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is a dedicated, unsentimental Austrian who engineers his own opportunity. After bumping tires in a Formula 3 competition, a rivalry is born, one that becomes explosive when both jump up into Formula 1. The centre and grand finale of this true story is the 1976 season, where Lauda was defending his World Championship title, and Hunt is determined to win his first.
Any hack job could make a workable film from a true story as dramatic as this. Peter Morgan’s scripts have hardly been the most subtle over the past few years, but he takes a step back here, crafting a sharp, streamlined script that isn’t bogged down with any fanciful embellishments. It isn’t a piece full of subtleties, but then neither are the shells of the F1 cars, wheels skirting together, chassis spinning off into balls of flames. Operating in his happiest mode, Howard makes Rush the kind of mainstream Hollywood crowd pleaser that would feel just as comfortable existing during the 1970s themselves.
Shifting gears from the gruff Norse God of Thor, Chris Hemsworth reconfirms his star power, the role an obvious gimme with Hunt’s handsome, cocky allure and thrill-seeking abandon. Brühl, who also has a face made for posters, sacrifices his beauty for the “rat-like” appearance of Lauda, instead pursuing the cold, brusque obsessiveness of his character, often remaining likeable only in the shade of Hunt’s arrogance. Lauda is appealing for his talent – he waltzes into the leading racing team, changes the car’s mechanics and shaves two seconds off a laptime within about 24 hours – and his sheer guile, which is tested and demonstrated most during the 1976 season. (Women, as per usual, get short shrift, although both Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara do sharp work with what they’re given. In a sport that remains so masculine to this very day, it was perhaps inevitable.)
So impeccable is the special effects work here, it barely crosses the mind while the cars rush past the screen. What only exists in blurry video nowadays is stunningly imagined with modern close-ups and impossible angles, wheels zooming over the camera, parts jittering around inside the car as if the lens is a magnifying glass. While Howard and his team are aces at the technical look of racing, it’s always in service of the central competitive narrative, whether that means a race glimpsed by seconds in a montage, or thrilling minutes as drama plays out on the track.
Rush isn’t quite what it says. Pleasingly, it’s less of a manic headrush than something like Fast & Furious probably is (I’ve still not seen any of those things). Howard stays at a steady but ample pace, letting the character duet develop into a truly enthralling relationship. From the faded colour palette to the delirious point-of-view camera angles, Howard has made a film in the best classic conventions. It's a gripping character piece as well as an exhilarating sporting film, a crowd pleaser that understands crowds are often most pleased to find something on-screen worth getting involved in.
Podcast a group discussion of TIFF 13: Oscar buzz, our favorite films, and more
Ambition & Self Sabotage on Gravity and Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her
Mano-a-Mano Hallucinations Norway's Pioneer & Jake Gyllenhaal² in Enemy
Quickies Honeymoon, Young & Beautiful, Belle
Labor Day in a freeze-frame nutshell
Jessica Chastain at the Eleanor Rigby Premiere
August Osage County reactions Plus Best Picture Nonsense
Rush Ron Howard's crowd pleaser
The Past from Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi & Cannes Best Actress Berenice Bejo
Queer Double Feature: Tom at the Farm and Stranger by the Lake
Boogie Nights Live Read with Jason Reitman and Friends
First 3 Screenings: Child's Pose, Unbeatable and Isabelle Huppert in Abuse of Weakness
TIFF Arrival: Touchdown in Toronto. Two unsightly Oscars