Rush - Cinema Review

'by the final act the women have become uninteresting Hollywood clichés. Maybe it was Howard’s intention to demonstrate the patently misogynistic world of Formula One in the 1970s, but it just smacks of lazy writing'

During its final third, Rush establishes itself pretty definitively as a biopic of Formula One driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). It’s a surprising narrative choice considering that the previous two thirds of the film have largely shared the focus between Austrian Lauda and his British rival James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). Perhaps it’s simply an unavoidable symptom of the journey the events of the 1976 Formula One season historically took, with director Ron Howard allowing the story - at this stage at least - to direct him. But it also undeniably feels like Howard choosing to keep things safe, allowing the dual focus to drop to make things easier for him. Easier it may have been, and the resulting cinematic tale spun is certainly enjoyable, but the safe option feels unsatisfyingly at odds with the high octane, emotionally charged events being played out.

Development of both Hunt and Lauda follows the same pattern. The former is introduced as an arrogant, womanising playboy (albeit quite a likeable one), and whilst the character largely maintains these traits throughout, during the film’s first half Hunt takes on additional layers that offer some promising character development.

But as Hunt steadily becomes a supporting player in Lauda’s story, so his character takes some backwards steps, becoming an oversimplified version of the individual we have got to know in the first half of the film. Howard heavy-handedly carries over one or two of Hunt’s idiosyncrasies, but this just serves to highlight how many of the character’s layers have been taken away. Hemsworth’s performance remains consistent throughout: good, but never outstanding. This isn’t the role that will help audience’s regard the young actor as more than a red-caped superhero wielding a giant magical hammer, which you get the feeling is what Hemsworth had hoped would happen.

Daniel Brühl is the revelation here, with a consistently impressive and compelling performance which builds Lauda from cold stereotype to quirky caricature to complex human being. Whilst Brühl brings out the best from Hemsworth, their several back-and-forths throughout a pleasure to watch, it is the scenes in which Brühl brings Lauda to life away from his rivalry with Hunt that are likely - and indeed deserve - to stick in your memory the most. A sequence in which Lauda is challenged to “drive fast” through the Italian countryside is one of the absolute highlights of the film.

Outside of the main two, however, character development is disappointingly lacking. Hunt’s entourage during his early days as a Formula Three driver never become more than throwaway figures. Stephen Mangan as McLaren team manager Alastair Caldwell gets a memorable introductory scene, but soon becomes another forgettable member of Howard’s overcrowded cast. No one is more underwritten here than the women, however. Olivia Wilde (perfunctory) and Alexandra Maria Lara (significantly more impressive) as Hunt’s and Lauda’s respective love interests start off well, but by the final act have become uninteresting Hollywood clichés. Maybe it was Howard’s intention to demonstrate the patently misogynistic world of Formula One in the 1970s, but it just smacks of lazy writing more than anything else.

The fact that I haven’t yet mentioned anything to do with the film’s race sequences, considering Rush’s predominant Formula One theme, speaks volumes. The action here certainly never comes close to being poorly crafted. Indeed, the racing scenes are tight and enjoyable all the way through. But like so many other elements within Rush, you’ll find yourself wishing that they were so much more. It all comes back to that word used at the start of this review: safe. In his action sequences, just as in his storytelling and characterisation (outside of Lauda), again and again Howard errs on the side of safety, rather than taking a risk and possibly creating something outstanding. Rush is certainly entertaining, but never delivers the intense experience its name suggests.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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