Rush: A Thrilling Ride, Start to Finish

2013 has been a very good year for movies I’ve enjoyed, perhaps thanks in part to me going to the theaters far more often over the course of this year. To pick a favorite among the movies I’ve seen in this year would be extremely difficult, but Ron Howard’s Rush, starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, is a strong contender for that slot.

Set in the 1970s, Rush is a movie based on the true story of Formula One racers James Hunt and Nicki Lauda, and their famously intense rivalry. We’re first introduced to the two when their paths crossed in Formula Three, where the two take an immediate dislike to one another after their first encounter on the track. Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is the “superstar” of the two; popular and extroverted, and more than a bit of a ladies’ man, but also reckless and impulsive. Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), by contrast, is an introverted, calculating perfectionist that is focused intensely on making himself and his car the very best they can be, not on being popular with the other racers. While Hunt initially beats Lauda in Formula Three, Lauda takes a gamble to buy entry into Formula One, where his knowledge as a technician and his skill as a racer allows him to rapidly excel. When Hunt battles his mounting personal issues and gradually catches up to Lauda, the two initiate a close and heated rivalry to be the World Champion in Formula One, which leads to the accident that nearly claimed Lauda’s life and had a lasting impact on the relationship between the two.

Rush has an extremely strong cast going for it; I can’t say that any of the performances I saw were weak. Chris Hemsworth gives the role his all as usual, showing us both Hunt’s immense charisma and drive and his moody, irresponsible side that plagued his marriage with Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). Daniel Bruhl’s Lauda is also extremely well-done, showing us a man often difficult to get along with but undeniably brilliant and even more driven than Hunt to be the best, in his own way. The scenes with Lauda and his girlfriend and eventual wife Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) are some of the most moving in the film, along with Bruhl’s portrayal of Lauda, disfigured and still in immense pain from his terrible accident, mustering the iron determination to keep going after getting out of the hospital. The rivalry between the two leads is presented in a complex light, each worthy in their own way but falling down in other respects so that the audience’s sympathy goes to both of them and which you support when they butt heads tends to shift until we start to see rivalry give away to respect. Being based on true events and people in no way lessens the achievement of the cast’s inspired performances all around.

The movie also has an intensity to its action I had not been entirely prepared for; with its visuals, its soundtrack, and a few choice scenes, we are shown both the heart-pounding excitement of the race but also just how dangerous Formula One is for the competitors; Lauda does point out before one race that even in normal conditions, he must accept every time he gets in his car that there is a 20% chance he might die, and the movie is unafraid to show that a number of racers aren’t so lucky. The movie pulling no punches on the accidents, especially Lauda’s historic one, can lead to some wince-inducing moments that counterpoint the action of the race scenes quite nicely, reminding us that as exciting as each race is, the cars these men take so much pride in driving are one false move away from becoming death-traps. Hunt embraces the risk, quipping that “the risk of death turns people on”, while Lauda struggling with his knowledge of the odds and how much he’s willing to risk for victory provides several important moments for his character.

If you can see Rush in theaters, I heartily recommend it. It’s neck-and-neck with The Butler for me in my current picks for the top film of 2013’s fall season, and definitely worth a watch for any moviegoer.

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