Half-baked script leaves 'Rush' feeling rushed
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.
Let's be clear up front: The face that belongs on the poster for “Rush” is not that of Chris Hemsworth, but rather Daniel Bruhl. With apologies to the Norse god of thunder and Avenger, Bruhl is the one who gives “Rush” what rush the movie has to offer.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara
Bruhl has his work cut out for him here, because while Hemsworth is fine (though not necessarily great), Ron Howard doesn't do much as a director to elevate the material and the script from Peter Morgan has major flaws. The result is a fairly predictable, paint-by-numbers biopic, with only its Formula 1 trappings and Bruhl's performance separating it from its peers.
The story, in brief: Beginning in 1970 and culminating in 1976, German racer Niki Lauda (Bruhl) and British driver James Hunt (Hemsworth) were the best in Formula 1 and constantly tested each other in a battle for supremacy on the track. The movie begins with their first meeting in a Formula 3 race in 1970 and runs through the 1976 season, during which Lauda nearly died in a fiery crash. (This is supposed to be a shock, but as usual the trailers have given everything away.)
To the movie's credit, it looks good and gets much of the superficial details right. The costumes, production design and soundtrack all instantly evoke the '70s, though the soundtrack leans on overly familiar touchstones like the Spencer Davis Group's “Gimme Some Lovin'” a bit too much. Howard, working with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, soaks the movie in a hypersaturated yet grainy aesthetic that also adds to the period vibe. Rounding things out is Hans Zimmer's score (he lays off the rumbling bass of his recent superhero work), which is predictably rousing and helps with the ebb and flow of tension as needed.
For all of its external beauty, however, issues with “Rush” begin to emerge as soon as one looks past the surface. The fundamental flaw is a badly structured screenplay, which is compounded by Howard's inability to mine much depth from the material. The movie is only two hours long, but it still feels stretched and needlessly complex because Morgan keeps adding subplots that detract from the main thrust of the narrative. We don't need to see that both Lauda and Hunt had trouble breaking into Formula 1, or Hunt's dalliances with various racing groupies, or Lauda fighting with his racing teammates. The movie seems to think that telling the two drivers' stories in parallel is the same thing as telling the story of their rivalry, which it isn't.
It also needs to be said that the movie uses its female characters shamefully. Hunt plows through waves of disposable women, then is seemingly reformed by Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), a New York model, only to almost immediately throw her away as the movie writes her off. This is supposed to show that Hunt had issues, but the subplot is so flimsy that it doesn't really add anything to his character and makes a mockery of Wilde, who is a capable actress and doesn't deserve to be treated like a toy. Alexandra Maria Lara fares a little better as Lauda's wife, because Lauda doesn't treat her like garbage, but she doesn't get much to do either aside from look fretful and concerned when her husband is racing.
What really throws all of the movie's problems into sharp relief is Bruhl's performance as Lauda. Both Lauda and Hunt are cocksure, self-admitted jerks, but where Hunt is all outward bluster in a manner we've seen before, Lauda is a web of seemingly contradictory traits that Bruhl somehow wrangles into a fully formed character. Lauda absolutely believes he's the best on the track any given day, but he won't race if he feels his risk of death is above a certain percentage. He says he doesn't really love racing, but yet he feels the need to crush any and all opposition; he races because, well, that's just what he does.
If the rest of “Rush” were as good as Bruhl is, it would be an instant contender for one of the best movies of the year. As it is, though, the movie idles in the driveway, looking pretty but not going anywhere.
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