' ' Cinema Romantico: Rush

Monday, September 30, 2013


Too often the media and the public are prone to an emotional desire for our athletes and sports stars to neatly fit into ready-made narratives. Consider LeBron James, arguably America's most famous athlete. At first he was an Ohio kid playing for an Ohio team, prepared to bring long-suffering Cleveland a championship, The King. That was the narrative. Until "The Decision" when James unceremoniously left Cleveland for Miami and automatically became The Villain. Now that is the narrative, and anything said or written about him must revolve around villainous decision.

This is what makes Ron Howard's "Rush", his adrenaline-soused story of the 1970's Formula One rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, both a little smart and a little stale. At the movies we demand tangible change in our characters, for them to begin with one perspective but come around to another just in the nick of time for the closing credits. And while Lauda and Hunt do change in their attitude to one another, their overriding worldview very specifically remains the same. They maintain their own narratives.

Scripted by Peter Morgan, "Rush" opens with the apparent intention to hone in on James Hunt, played by a charismatic Chris Hemsworth with a mane of hair that all on its lonesome seems to emit Sexual Radioactive Frequencies. Before the movie is but a few minutes old he has already scored with the nurse charged to tend his wounds and then squired her to next his race. Quickly she is forgotten, as are most (all?) of the women in Hunt's life, such as the vixen Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). She waltzes into the garage in her swank fur coat, makes doe eyes at him and a scene later they're married. At first I thought this was weak writing, then I realized it to be a strength. Hunt doesn't dabble. He does.

His dream is to become Formula One champion, but that dream runs into a nearly immovable object in the form of Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), an Austrian known as The Rat. Lauda is as calculating and cautious and austere as Hunt is spontaneous and rebellious and wild. He is uninterested in friends, unbothered by enemies, and clinically buys his way into Formula One by creating a souped-up racing car the specs of which he will only reveal for a spot on a specific team.

Eventually, of course, Lauda proves more than Hunt's match - he proves to be better. So Hunt, the perpetual skirt-chaser, is left to chase Lauda whose devotion to discipline keeps Hunt (and his own wife, played by Alexandra Maria Lara) at arm's length. As this happens, the film gradually becomes Ladua's - and Brühl's - as much as Hunt's. In that way, it sort of echoes their rivalry, one-upmanship. The two men circle each other, citing stock platitudes, condemning the way the other man lives and drives (or, is it drives and lives?), but finding a mutual respect despite the chasm.

Of course, there are also race scenes, a lot of 'em, and they are handled with a knowing va-voom (Anthony Dod Mantle did the film's cinematography). They are rip-roaring, to be sure, straight ahead and purely visceral, and indicative of "Rush" as a whole. It is very much the same thing for a full two hours, establishing two people as disparate personality types and then repeating the attributes of those personality types over and over and over, etc. Rather than dig a little deeper to see what molded these two men into those personality types, however, the screenplay is generally content with the established surface.

Consider the in-flight bout of coitus that Hunt shares with a striking Stewardess in the jetliner bathroom. We never see the Stewardess's face as it happens, instead we see Hunt admiring his own face in the mirror. This might suggest the zenith of solipsism but that sort of psychology is simply not what "Rush" wants to be about.

Thus, the ultimate payoff left me less than effusive if still admiring. That is because by the time the film begins these two men have already found themselves, and are now merely in the process of living out their respective lives in the way each one sees fit.


Candice Frederick said...

yeah....i was very underwhelmed by this. i thought the characterization was weak and there was no development.

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, there really isn't development. I mean, I did like that they didn't change in the end but I really could have used more than the same character tropes repeated again and again and again.