The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.

Reviewed by Charlotte Stevens.

Director Ron Howard
Length 123 mins
Certificate 15 / R
Rating ********--
Filmmaking: 4  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article On the whole, Rush is an enjoyable film. Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is lush and engaging, the actors turn in excellent performances, and - importantly for a film about motorsport - it’s exciting. Writer Peter Morgan and director Ron Howard previously worked together on Frost/Nixon, so it is not surprising that the rivalry between two Formula 1 drivers could prove an attractive subject for the pair.

There is so much going on in Rush that, to use an obvious metaphor, the film gives an impression of a tightly-controlled machine in danger of veering out of control. It takes a heavy hand to keep the film’s competing concerns in line. Ron Howard is, and I mean this in the most complimentary way possible, just the heavy hand to tell this story. A lighter touch might have left the many threads in a hopeless tangle, but Howard blithely moves between voiceovers that swap perspective between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). This allows impressionistic close-ups and other stylistic flourishes to evoke the intensity of motorsport, and uses the charismatic performances of the two leads to make these otherwise repulsive characters quite likeable.

Brühl plays to Lauda’s ‘ratty’ persona - even wearing a prosthetic to gain an overbite - and is endearingly abrupt in his self-assurance and single-minded dedication to his own success. In contrast to ratty Lauda, Hemsworth’s Hunt is a giant, self-involved golden retriever puppy who bounds through the film, charming everyone.

The film is accessible for audiences not terribly familiar with the history of motorsport, following the rivalry between Hunt and Lauda from their first meeting through six years of competition. The difference between the two men is drawn in broad strokes: the distance in physical appearance between the tall, blond Hemsworth and small, dark Bruhl is used to emphasise the difference in their approaches to motorsport and to life. However, the film also emphasises the inseparablility of motorsport from the main characters' daily lives, which adds a somewhat artificial intensity to their rivalry (they were reportedly friendly with each other). The emphasis on their personal conflict does admittedly take the focus away from the sport itself; inevitable, perhaps, but one could be forgiven for the impression that F1 races are quick and easy sprints, rather than mental and physical tests of endurance. Still, the pace of the film in its juggling of narrative concerns does take the viewer on a breathless ride.

Much of the urgency and power of Rush is due to the cinematography; however, the film’s lasting visual impression is of Dod Mantle’s gorgeous photography of the film’s various locations.

This review was published on October 16, 2013.

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