Give Me the Drive: Ron Howard’s Rush (2013)
“A wise man gets more from his enemies, than a fool from his friends.”
After Ron Howard received his second Oscar nomination for directing with Frost/Nixon in 2008, he seemed to hit a bit of a creative lurch with his pair of follow-ups, the lackluster Da Vinci Code sequel Angels & Demons and the confounding romantic dramedy The Dilemma. Neither film felt timely or passionate the way the director’s best work does. It makes sense then that Howard would deliver one of his very best films when he found inspiration in the real life rivalry between the Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Rush feels energetic and alive in a way few Howard films do, which was a must for this story.
In the 1970s, the intense rivalry between Hunt and Lauda was the talk of the F1 community. Both men were deeply competitive, but their motivations and techniques could not have been more different. The English-born James Hunt is in it for the thrill and the fame. To prove to everyone who doubted him, his family, the world, himself, that he could be the best. While the Austrian Lauda races for the challenge and the desire to push himself to the limit. On the track Hunt is, as Lauda says, a charger. He’s aggressive and fast but also reckless. Lauda on the other hand is start, cautious, and efficient; he doesn’t take any unnecessary risks. Expectedly, their approaches to racing mirror those of their personal lives.
The pair of lead performances at the center of Rush are frankly exceptional, as Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl do remarkable work inhabiting these characters. Hemsworth’s turn is one of surprising subtlety given the raucous and over-the top personality of Hunt, as well as his roles up until this point. He shows the the doubt and fear underneath the showy machismo Hunt projects to the world through simple gestures and mannerisms. What Brühl does with his Lauda is risky in that he does not shy away from the inherent unlikable aspects of the F1 champion, but it pays off immensely. The performance is especially impressive after the devastating Nürburgring crash.
Said crash is one of the most intense and well staged auto crashes I have seen in a film. Howard taps the same well he went to in the most harrowing portions of Apollo 13. One of the many strengths of the film is the way it shows the danger of F1 racing, which underlines the idea that the sport does not attract the most stable people. Lauda is badly burned in the wreck that he was lucky to survive, yet he returned to racing a mere six weeks later. It begs the question if this drive to get back in the car came from healthy ambition or unhealthy obsession. The film doesn’t explicitly come down on one side or the other, instead leaving that to the audience. The film does say that a major part of Lauda’s quick return was his competition with Hunt. Even going as far as showing Lauda watching Hunt win races while undergoing painful rehabilitative procedures. It argues that rivalry can be just as strong of a motivator as cooperation.
Howard collaborated with the excellent cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle here and it’s clear that he director found the partnership to be reinvigorating, as the photography is lush and stunning throughout. The picture moves at a breakneck pace but due to the energetic and clear editing it’s never overwhelming. With Rush Howard delivered a mature an challenging film that still feels a part of his populist filmography, and if history is fair it will be thought of alongside the best sports dramas.