Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino, David Calder, Natalie Dormer, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Alistair Petrie, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Colin Stinton
R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use
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It’s debatable whether Ron Howard has ever been a great director. A master of his particular style perhaps, but never a master of the medium. Rush is another of these competent, journeyman efforts that pales in comparison to the work his contemporaries are doing. It isn’t close to his nadir and that has to account for something.
After his days as a child actor, Howard began making short films and TV movies before his first major acclaim arrived for his work on comedy Night Shift in 1982. As the ’80s progressed, Howard created various memorable films like Splash, Cocoon, Willow and Parenthood. Even the 1990’s saw an array of solid, if not spectacular films with his pinnacle Apollo 13 stormed theaters in 1995. Since then, the only time he’s come truly close to that early work was with the intense character drama Frost/Nixon, which succeeded as much on stars Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, and the screenplay of Peter Morgan, as it did with his direction.
Once again, a well-researched script by Peter Morgan and a pair of superb lead performances have elevated a mostly pedestrian affair to the standard he set for mainstream trifles back in the 1980’s and 1990s. Rush tells the true story of a single season of Formula 1 racing in 1976 featuring the intense rivalry between playboy superstar James Hunt (Hemsworth) and science-focused misanthrope Niki Lauda (Brühl). The film progresses as the two work pit their dichotomy of passions for racing against one another on a world stage that eventually leads to Lauda’s near-fatal accident and subsequent return to the competition.
Some actors create familiar characteristics that become part of every role they take on. While there is an occasional bit of stretching, it’s that familiar appeal that leads them to success. Actors from Cary Grant to Tom Hanks built entire careers on a single, affable persona, seldom stretching beyond their wheelhouse, but always carrying their performances out with the utmost capability. Hemsworth is quickly building a similar style in his performances. There is little difference between his titular Thor character, the huntsman in Snow White and the Huntsman and James Hunt here. These are all characters that trade on strength of character and charming accessibility, generating an instant familiarity with Hemsworth’s ability and instantly securing your undivided attention.
Other actors prefer to dig deep into each role and becomeone someone completely new and are immensely successful at it. Actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Christian Bale are never satisfied with doing the same type of character regularly. They seek out roles that permit them to embody new attitudes, new view points and new personalities. Brühl has more in common with these actors than with Hemsworth. That stark distinction is what energizes the Hunt-Lauda rivalry on screen. While Brühl hasn’t had the same broad career trajectory as Day-Lewis or Bale, he’s no less adept at such tasks as this performance attests.
As with any generic popcorn flick, the key to success is delivering something familiar and accessible with at least a few teases of creative inspiration. Howard is exceptionally good at that style of filmmaking and if he never quite reaches the level of acclaim of similar pop-culture-targeting filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, it’s not for lack of trying. Its in an easily accessible and relatable film like Rush that he best achieves the level of acclaim he’s most accustomed to.
Rush may have immediate appeal to racing fans, especially those who prefer Formula 1 racing over NASCAR, but the believability and intense excitement that populates Rush should have an easy time attaining approval from less-interested filmgoers. Will it convert non-racing fans? That’s unlikely, but if you’re interested in well-researched and acted action biopics, this should be a film you’ll enjoy.
Potentials: Supporting Actor (Daniel Brühl), Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects
Unlikelies: Actor (Chris Hemsworth), Original Screenplay, Original Score, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design
October 30, 2013