Monday, September 30, 2013

Movie Review: Rush

I have to admit that sports movies are a genre that pass me by. I'm sure there are some good ones out there, but as someone who has never really been into any sport more than a passing amount, its never going to be something that I see on a trailer and think "gosh! I must see that!". Formula One is also something I've never had more than a passing interest in. My Grandad was a big fan - he taped them all on VHS for rewatching and if one was on when there was visiting we were invisible to him, as I recall - so I picked up some interest there in the late 80s, and I've seen a few modern Grand Prix if they've been on, but really...not my thing. So, a movie set in F1's 1976 season, centered on a rivalry between two men whose names are only vaguely familiar? Of course that would end up being one of the best films I've seen this year.

Rush opens on the starting grid of the 1976 German Grand Prix, as rainclouds slowly clear over the Nurnburgring and the soundtrack is dominated by the revving of engines. It's a moody, ominous opening that accompanies a voice over that establishes oncoming tragedy, before the film flashes back a few years to introduce the two protagonists - Austrian Nikki Lauda and Brit James Hunt. Good news for fans of Chris Hemsworth, too, as his portrayal of Hunt is frequently shirtless and occasionally pant-less as well, especially as his fast-living lothario lifestyle is introduced to us. Lauda, by contrast, is cold, calculatedly driven and emotionally closed. The film makes great play of the contrast between the two men (and their relationships) as they become track rivals for the 1976 World Championship.

Screenwriter Peter Morgan has previous form on this sort of thing of course, having written Frost/Nixon (also with director Ron Howard) and The Queen. Historical re-enactment turned to drama is sort of his stock in trade, and Howard is hardly a stranger to it either. So as you might expect the period detail is fantastic, and the portrayal of the F1 scene intricate and evocative, especially the huge sense of danger of driving these over-powered cars around aging and increasingly unsafe tracks. The mix of fatalism and arrogance from the drivers meshes with the clanking, ratting mechanical shots of the cars to make every lap a nerve-wrenching experience.

Much as Senna was an F1 documentary that didn't need any knowledge or great interest in F1 to get the most out of, Rush is careful to lay out the stakes and risks to you - so much so that a seasoned F1 veteran may feel talked down to a bit. I didn't know the story, nor the fates of those involved, which made for tense viewing, especially at the climactic Japanese Grand Prix which had me on the edge of my seat. Rush may not break a lot of new ground but it is amazingly well implemented in every area, and determined to remain as accessible to the widest audience as possible.