Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rush (2013) – Review

Review: Rush is a fantastic sports rivalry drama that is both thrilling and emotionally engaging. The film is about two highly focused Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda (the two best drivers in the world at the time) and their intense and competitive 1976 season – each man fiercely contending to be World Champion. Their rivalry was born of hatred, but grew into something more – not just the motivation to be better, to beat the other, but admiration, respect, and friendship.

Rush works on multiple narrative levels. It is a great sports drama, probably the best in years if not ever (on a side note, here are a few sports films I love: The Pride of the Yankees, Hoop Dreams, Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man, and Goon). The rivalry between Hunt and Lauda hits all the right dramatic notes. What is brilliant about the film is that director Ron Howard does such a good job digging into each character that the audience cares deeply about each man and does not know who to fully root for – the viewer constantly finds himself switching sides throughout the film, which is a very compelling experience. The film also greatly benefits from the majesty of the big theater screen and speakers. The visuals and sounds of the Formula 1 race cars is onto itself exciting, to which Howard also adds the drama and thrilling tension of the narrative. For most, especially in America, this is probably an unfamiliar story and thus going in the ending is not a known entity, creating an engrossing narrative just from the perspective of wanting to see who comes out on top. As a sports film, everything works: the rivalry, the exhilarating visuals and sounds, and the larger than life heroes.

And yet, as good as the film is as a sports drama, it is maybe even better as a character piece. Ron Howard does a wonderful job with Hunt and Lauda. The audience is given enough character moments for both men to really get to know them and find themselves drawn in by their struggle and emotional journey. The audience has a strong connection to each man. Plus, Howard elicits absolutely phenomenal performances from his lead actors (probably the best of each actor’s careers to date). The juxtaposition of each man’s approach makes them seemingly perfect rivals: Hunt’s charisma and life-on-the-edge persona versus Lauda’s socially awkward but brilliant technician persona. Howard does great work showcasing each man’s perspective and making a compelling argument for each approach. The audience finds themselves relating to each man, which is a grand achievement in itself.

Howard also creates a very intimate feel throughout the film, which aids in the character development. Visually, Howard’s camera seems to always find itself right in the mix, invading the personal space of the characters placing the audience often in their perspective. The audience feels the full impact of each emotional high and low the character experiences, because they are right in there with them. The race scenes feel more breathtaking, because the audience is often right in the driver seat as well. Howard’s camera creates an overall heightened dramatic tension that really plays well for the audience, pulling them into the narrative even more.

From a pacing standpoint, Howard also does a good job. His narrative is structured to continually switch perspectives between Hunt and Lauda, with much of the story told through voice-over narration. The film never feels slow because Howard is able to switch back and forth from his two leads always telling the overall story from the best perspective (from a narrative sense).

Really, if there is anything to nitpick about Rush it is that the film is basically at its core just a by-the-numbers sports drama. The rivalry story is a tried-and-true narrative device that has been done over and over in popular media. Rush does not quite transcend its place as an entertaining Hollywood film. That said, however, it is a very entertaining experience and one of the best films of 2013 so far.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Ron Howard is a staple of Hollywood filmmaking. His films generally have the gloss and feel of grand, but safe, dramas (in which Howard does often garner strong performances) or A-list star driven comedies (that are never very good). His work, while hit or miss in terms of quality, has never been exciting from an aesthetic perspective. However, with Rush, Howard makes both his best narrative film and his most artistic. The film has a very ambitious and aesthetically interesting visual style that works extremely well with the narrative drama and characters. After a couple of his poorer directorial efforts, Howard’s filmmaking seems to have found new life (Rush is my favorite of Howard’s over twenty films, I also like Willow, Parenthood, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, and Frost/NixonApollo 13 is probably Howard’s other most critically acclaimed, I am just not as big a fan).

Hans Zimmer’s score works well to reinforce the thrilling and dramatic moments of the film, but is greatly overshadowed both by the solid soundtrack of period songs and the wonderful sound design (comprised of revving engines and squealing tires). Anthony Dod Mantle’s photography is second to none so far in 2013. It is brilliant work. The stylized look of the races, often combining what looks like actual footage with what Howard and Dod Mantle shot, works exceptionally in its ability to create a realistic experience for the audience. There are many stunning photographic moments in the film, culminating in the sheer magnificence of the final race scene in the rainy shadow of Mt. Fuji. Mark Digby’s production design is also top notch, as his work completely transports the audience into the 1970s both visually and culturally. The overall look and feel of the race scenes is a great achievement for all involved in the film.

The cast is very good throughout. Christian McKay (doing is typically wonderful, scene-stealing character work), Natalie Dormer, and Pierfrancesco Favino are all very good in small supporting roles. Olivia Wilde does not have too many dramatic opportunities, as she is basically there to look glamorous. She not only captures the look, but she also does good work in the few dramatic scenes she is given. Alexandra Maria Lara has a fuller supporting role than Wilde, and she takes full advantage. Her strong work allows the audience to see something more in Lauda, which then enables them to switch sides and root for him, despite the immutable charisma of Hunt. However, the film is really all about two characters and two performances. Daniel Bruhl is incredible as Lauda. It is a full on character performance, as Bruhl is completely lost in the role. What works very well is that while Lauda is not particularly likable, his confidence in himself and his talent in its own way gives him a kind of charisma that the audience can latch onto, and Bruhl does not miss any opportunity to pull them in. Chris Hemsworth is just having a blast with Hunt. The role plays off of Hemsworth’s natural talents as an actor: being handsome and charismatic, but he brings a deeper emotional turmoil to the role that is very interesting. As confident and care free as Hunt may appear to be, he also has his demons. Both characters feel like fully developed, real people and that is due to Bruhl and Hemsworth.

Summary & score: Rush may be the greatest sports film ever made, as it captures the imagination and the heart of the audience – just like the power of sport. 8/10

No comments:

Post a Comment