Race war – Rush review

By Simon Miraudo
September 25, 2013

Rush tells of the furious rivalry between death-defying Formula 1 racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The former, a rascally Brit, left a trail of naked women and empty beer bottles in his pursuit for a world championship. The latter, a brusque Austrian, found himself at the center of a literal inferno during one disastrous race, and didn’t even let that stand in the way to his crown. It’s a tale in which tempers run hot, and the cars run fast, so who better to direct than cinema’s most dangerous rogue, Ron Howard? Hey, didn’t you see him in the music video for Jamie Foxx‘s ‘Blame It (On the Alcohol),’ where he hangs out with fellow bad-asses Jake Gyllenhaal and Forest Whitaker? Opie can twerk. (Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, but it’s all the good Lord graced me with, so I’m running with it.)

Howard is still considered an eternal teenager thanks to his stint on Happy Days, but behind the camera he is much more dad-like; seemingly only concerned with being likable, not ruffling too many feathers, and getting everyone home on time, so they don’t have to walk to their car in the dark. These aren’t bad qualities, in a father or a filmmaker (and his crew probably like him so much they gift him with a ‘World’s Greatest Director’ baseball cap at the end of every shoot). However, unpredictability, originality, ingenuity, and a little bit of personality elevates the great from the good. Hell, this is the lesson literally taught by the characters of Rush. Without those elements, Rush feels more like a Walk. It’s conventional. It’s safe. It’s the Ron Howard of movies.


My favourite Ron Howard flick is Frost/Nixon, primarily because it’s a restaging of Peter Morgan’s play of the same name, and in it Howard does what he does best: gets out of the way of his actors. Smartly, after a half-decade of Dan Brown adaptations and Vince Vaughn comedies, he reteams with Morgan for Rush. The endlessly appealing – and depressingly handsome – Chris Hemsworth takes on the role of Hunt, while Spanish-born German Daniel Brühl plays the rat-like Lauda (hey, Hunt’s words not mine). The picture begins in 1970, and culminates with their showdown at the notorious 1976 Grand Prix. It is Hemsworth’s visage that dominates the marketing materials, but Brühl is ostensibly the true lead; Lauda being the Salieri to Hunt’s Mozart.

Well, that distillation of their relationship isn’t entirely accurate. Lauda doesn’t feel as if he is the less-than-supreme talent, nor was he jealous of Hunt’s abilities on the track. If anything, he’s the one truly, ahem, driven, by his nemesis. Hunt, in contrast, simply likes to win, and the perks that come with it. Unfortunately, Morgan and Howard never really investigate their compulsion to drive; urges we saw explored fully in the supreme F1 doco Senna, and the torturous tale of extreme sportsman Aron Ralston, 127 Hours. What makes these men tick? Rush doesn’t dig deep enough. There’s not even a homoerotic tension between the two, such as in Top Gun. It’s like they’re begging us to write the slash-fiction ourselves!


Despite Brühl being burdened by prosthetics and a truly unfortunate wig, he delivers Morgan’s cutting dialogue with relish. Hemsworth, meanwhile, gives the real star turn; sadly, his side of the story is padded out with uninteresting romantic subplots (Natalie Dormer and Olivia Wilde playing just two of his lady companions). The actors – and the thrilling racing sequences – are plenty compelling. For the most part, however, Rush just feels overcooked. Hans Zimmer’s omnipresent score unnecessary underlines each remotely significant moment. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle similarly adds every frill and effect imaginable to remind us this is a period piece, and to fool us into thinking it has the stamp of a singular auteur on it.

Rush is plenty watchable, like so many of Howard’s efforts. That said, it would be flat-out inaccurate to also compliment it on being special, interesting, or even memorable. There’s nothing wrong with making an okay feature. And perhaps if this was a biopic about the famous F1 driver who never took risks, didn’t strive for greatness, and always came fourth, we could call it a totally appropriate adaptation. But this isn’t that story. Howard gets a lifetime free pass, of course, for producing and narrating that great American sitcom Arrested Development; a show with unequalled ambition and audacity. When will we see the rebellious TV talent behind that program roar to life on the big screen? Thirty-six years into his filmmaking career, and he’s still stuck in first.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Rush arrives in Australian cinemas October 3, 2013.

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