Saturday, 19 October 2013


Formula for Success

Just like director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan’s previous collaboration Frost/Nixon (2008), Rush, more than anything else, is a film about male rivalry. The egos pitched against each other are even strikingly similar in both films; Michael Sheen’s cocky, flamboyant playboy is replicated in Chris Hemsworth’s James Hunt, while the slippery, complicated nature of Frank Langella’s Richard Nixon are attributes found once more in Daniel Bruhl’s Niki Lauda.
Like Frost/Nixon, the clash of such distinctive personalities is a perfect recipe for some scintillating Hollywood entertainment, especially once some noisy formula one cars have been thrown into the mix. At first neither character comes across as particularly likeable, with Hunt unapologetically arrogant and Lauda cold and forthright in his treatment towards others. But as the film moves from their early rise in the sport to their famous contest in the 1976 season, their characters become more rounded.
Hemsworth successfully conveys an inner vulnerability that checks the potentially irksome nature of his effortless outward charm, while Bruhl plays his role with a captivating sense of duplicity. Good as these two performances are, however, there’s not much going on with the rest of the cast, with the several female roles (Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, and Natalie Dormer) all given little to do aside from fulfilling their function as love interests for the two leads.
This being a film about formula one, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the excellent 2011 film Senna*. This documentary told the story of the famous Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna, and, in one particularly striking parallel, focussed a large deal on his rivalry with Alain Prost.
But whereas this film strove for maximum authenticity through the novel and affective sole use of archive footage to tell its story, Rush is very much a Hollywood-ised version of events, and bares all the advantages and disadvantages this carries with it. Incidences are weaved into a simple, neat narrative, with characters’ rises and falls all obeying the laws of Hollywood storytelling. The interplay between the pair’s rivalry does as a result lack the subtlety found in Senna, and could perhaps have benefited from playing out on the arena of the race course rather than through somewhat clichéd, expositional lines. But when on the road the film does benefit from some visceral, high production value shots of the thrilling cars. And for those worried about the film industry’s notorious disregard for historical accuracy, Rush has the seal of approval from the real life Niki Lauda, who has himself vouched for the film’s accuracy in interviews.
Another theme found in Senna and reoccurring here is that of the risk involved in racing. We’re presented a world where health and safety means far from what it does now. In an opening voiceover Lauda chillingly recounts how an average of two competitors died every year, and cars even adorn cigarette companies as sponsors. Ultimately, the film’s attitude towards the sport’s inherent recklessness is ambivalent; on one hand it celebrates the spectacle and bravery of hurtling around in these super-fast cars, but then we’re never allowed to forget the threat that lurks behind every high speed corner.
For the best film on formula one in recent times viewers are still advised to watch Senna, but Rush succeeds on its own terms as being a highly entertaining outing to the cinema, with a winning combination of character, thrilling racing scenes and storytelling that will satisfy most audiences.

*Link to my review of Senna:


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