When first I saw trailers for Rush, I assumed it had to be terrible. Then, I saw its positive critical buzz and thought perhaps my first instinct was wrong. Maybe Rush actually would be good.
Truthfully, I’m still not certain whether or not my expectations were met, exceeded or failed.
There is a lot to like about Rush, starting with the performances. Chris Hemsworth (James Hunt) and Daniel Bruhl (Niki Lauda) both shine, capturing their characters’ personalities so well that we understand these men, at least to the extent that Howard and Writer Peter Morgan define them.
The supporting players are also excellent, most especially Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene, Niki’s wife.
The action sequences are slickly shot, compellingly edited and mostly captivating. Rush didn’t overcome my dislike for racing, but it did keep me interested in racing scenes by making the races themselves only part of the focus. Even as cars speed around the tracks, James and Niki, and the rivalry between them, are always present.
The moments surrounding Lauda’s accident are fantastic. The way Howard films the rain, the media coverage, the drivers’ vote and the race itself all give us a sense of impending doom, doom from which the director does not let up as Bruhl sits in flame for nearly a minute or rests on a hospital bed for a lengthy stretch. The accident – its prelude, occurrence and aftermath – are easily the best and most suspenseful moments in Rush.
However, there is also much to dislike about Rush, most notably its character development, especially as pertaining to its females. Neither Marlene nor Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) are given much personality, a fact that is especially troubling in Marlene’s case. We get the sense that Suzy is not all that important to Hunt, so maybe it makes sense that we do not know her well. After all, Hunt doesn’t either.
That feeling, however, is not replicated in the relationship between Marlene and Niki, especially insofar as Niki resigns the final race to be with Marlene. To feel the intensity of Marlene and Niki’s relationship we needed to understand Marlene better, which means the screenplay should have spent more time defining her personality, showing her struggle, giving us some lens through which to know her.
Minor female characters are treated even worse than important ones. Most of the women in this movie exist only to sleep with James. They are mere objects he grabs whenever he needs release.
Furthermore, neither Niki nor James are particularly well defined. Morgan’s script and Howard’s direction captures the rivalry between the two men, but ultimately they give the characters themselves only one or two notes. Hunt is a playboy partier and consummate risk taker. Lauda’s approach is more cautious, more deliberate, more cerebral, and far less likable. There isn’t much more to either character.
The film features too many sports movie cliches. Lauda has a required slow start and come back. Hunt unravels upon losing his first Formula One car. And so forth. Perhaps these cliches capture true events – I don’t know enough about Lauda or Hunt to know, but I do know they function as pointless meanderings in this film, probably because the movie speeds through the events without delving into how they impact its lead characters.
In the end, then, I will credit Rush with being above average entertainment that holds attention throughout, but I will also say it is far from great. To be great, it needed to put even more focus on its characters.