‘Rush’ jumpstarts racing genre

By Karsten Burgstahler


It was WWII Gen. George S. Patton who said, “Death can be more exciting than life.” Likewise, the main characters of “Rush” (Rated R; 123 mins.) only feel alive when they are cheating death. The idea of living on the edge has been an intriguing prospect since before Patton’s time and is still an enduring movie trope. “Rush” gives us some interesting meditation on the idea, but it tends to focus on the action that could get our protagonists killed rather than the protagonists themselves.

“Rush” follows internationally famous Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) as they compete for the world championships during the mid- 1970s. Both men are completely consumed by the sport and cannot live without it, a problem that takes a toll on both of their personal lives. Lauda eventually ends up in a near-death accident and uses his desire to beat Hunt as his motivation to get back on the track.


The movie does feature some fine performances. Hemsworth plays the cocky hero he’s known for, but he puts his talents to use in a more serious drama rather than a fantasy flick. Bruhl’s performance isn’t as flamboyant as Hemsworth’s, but is equally on key. Both actors deliver the material well. Olivia Wilde is underused as Hunt’s wife, a relationship that quickly devolves when she realizes how obsessed he is with racing.

The racing scenes are fantastic, among the best I’ve ever seen. Director Ron Howard and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle put the audience right in the front seat of the car, aptly described as a bomb on wheels by the main characters. The danger is quite clear.

But even though the performances are good and the visuals stunning, I wish Howard had chosen to “tell” just as often as he “shows.” Yes, the audience gets to experience the blinding rain and tight curves Lauda and Hunt had to endure. We see the danger they live for. But as a character study, “Rush” merely goes skin deep. After Hunt has lost his sponsorship and cannot race, we briefly get to see how mad he has been driven. If Howard focused on the characters as much as on the visuals, Hemsworth and Bruhl would have had more to work with. As it is, the scenes where the two spar with each other—both for the cameras and in private—are the scenes where “Rush” is at its best.

“Rush” also suffers from a rushed third act. Lauda sustains horrible burns from his crash during the second act, so much so that his appearance will forever be altered. While his recovery feels like it should have been a bigger part of the movie, it feels like merely another obstacle Lauda must overcome. Howard loses the sense of what an accomplishment Lauda’s comeback really was.

“Rush” is one of the best sports movies I’ve seen in awhile, but it’s far from perfect. Some more meditation on the characters’ struggles could have made this a more effective sports tale. The movie’s action scenes speed forward while the character development struggles to stop idling.

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected] or 536-3311 ext. 261.