Saturday, 11 January 2014
Can’t Slow Down; on Rush
Poor, Rush. I saw it all those months ago and couldn’t even a muster up a short review of it. But, that’s hardly any indication of the film’s quality. I think I was so distracted by the idea of everyone seeming to dislike Ron Howard I’d forgotten that I bore little ill will towards the guy. I’m the only one I know who had Cinderella Man in his top 10 in 2005 (my favourite post 2000 Ron Howard film). But moving on to Rush.
Sports movies, specifically historical sports movies (Formula One racing counts as sports, right?) are not always, or even often, a guaranteed sell for me. Oftentimes they seem destined to follow the same, sometimes hopelessly banal, trajectory of rise-hurdle-tension-success that’s potentially heart-warming but can be uninteresting to watch. Rush to some extent, does maintain a similar trajectory, but where it manages to immediately to rise above the fray is by representing its sport in such exciting fashion. I’m not one for car racing, but Howard’s control of the camera regarding the film’s multiple race scenes is impressive and turns the sports drama into an action film, too, with the tension and adrenaline rushing and even veers into thriller territory as it nears its climax and resolution. Unsurprisingly, the world of Formula One is a masculine one but Rush with its focus on the racing more than the men, even, avoids one of the things I expected it to veer off track – action packed, and conventionally male focused but never claustrophobically hyper-masculine.
...more below on Rush's low plots, its acting and its women...
As I said, low on plot. The main thing Howard is using from his arsenal is his proficiency with these action set-pieces, which pop with significant verve; and, the duo of actors playing the two rivals at the centre. I’ve always found Chris Hemsworth pleasant but too ineffective to be truly charming and playing the playboy, caddish James Hunt is not the surest bet to winning points for charm but he does a fine job of playing up just how this can be appealing in spite of his caddish qualities. The film’s acting beacon is, as I’m sure every review has noted, is Daniel Brühl in a performance as focused and unrelenting as Howard’s direction. For one, doggedly resolute and oftentimes abrasive Nika Lauda is a character with much more depth. The two are co-leads and Hemsworth, I’d suspect, edges him out a little in screen-time but the film’s richest beats are written with Lauda in mind and Brühl makes good of the role offering up a fine performance. Morgan’s screenplay is generous in never making Lauda’s abrasiveness villainous but with only a sliver of “back-story” to speak Brühl manages to make Lauda’s nervous tics, his well-hidden insecurities and his gusto thrilling to watch.
Rush, with its look into the man-filled world of race car driving has taken some heat for its implicit misogyny, an accusation I’m wary of. I hesitate to say Rush has a woman problem. Like, for example, the way Captain Phillips tells us of a world inherently about males, the film reflects the male centred world of Formula One racing, although it’s fair to point out that generally the film isn’t much interested in anyone not named Lauda or Hunt. Technically, only these two are given much focus as people, leaving the fringe characters as occasional ciphers in their wake. It is, though, fairer to say that womanising James Hunt has a woman problem and the film’s falsest step. The film’s opening; focusing on James brief dalliance with a nurse, sets up his character well but seems to be a great waste of Natalie Dormer. His later, brief, marriage to model Suzy Miller similarly lays the root for his caddishness, but the film’s final shot of her after his final race reveals much too sentimentally pat a view of her investment in his career.
The film is itself a showpiece. Excellently edited with some of my favourite work from Anthony Dod Mantle giving a nice view of the popping and pulpish in its representation of the seventies. Zimmers score is arresting and Morgan’s screenplay proves that a thin plot doesn’t indicate a poorly written film. Rush made me think of that line in Cabaret (how’s that for odd comparisons?) when the Emcee says, “We have no place for hopelessness here.” Even amidst the film’s most harrowing moments when Lauda has his almost fatal accident the film’s forward momentum with focus on the race track is evident. While he’s pumping his stomach in the hospital he insists that the television be on to watch the race. That’s the sort of dogged focus on the race track the film has. Other things happen around and to Hunt and Lauda but the film keeps it focus decisively on the track. The film mirrors that, focused on the tension and adrenaline of the track to the expense of all else and hurtling to its climax (those two hours just fly by). But, it works.