Monday, 7 October 2013

Rush (2013) - Ron Howard

Motorsport and Hollywood have never been the best of friends. Over the years there have been numerous attempts to get them together, but every single film has failed to capture the excitement that any racing fan will tell you lies at the heart of the sport. The big problem is that Hollywood seems to feel that the idea of some bloke hurtling around a race track in a flimsy car loaded with highly flammable fuel isn’t quite interesting enough. So usually a love story or some other old cliché that worked in other films is bolted on, while all the things that make motor racing so watchable in the first place - team politics, strategies, the various personalities of the drivers are quietly let go.

The best (and I use that word in the widest most general sense) racing film ever made is John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966). It’s a real stinker of a film, staring a pudgy James Garner as an American Formula One driver making a comeback. Awful film, utter rubbish with two huge exceptions. The racing footage is superb, and there’s a raft of cameos by most of the world’s greatest drivers including Jack Brabham, Jimmy Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio and for me the best of the bunch, the none more English Graham Hill. If that’s the best then just image what the others are like.

So with that in mind my expectations for a Ron Howard film about the 1976 Formula 1 World Championship battle between Niki Lauda and James Hunt were low. Extremely low. But it’s an absolute triumph, not only a great film about motor racing, but also a superb drama about obsession and rivalry. Not just that though it also manages to ask why would anyone do anything as crazy and dangerous as motor racing, and provide resonable answers to boot.

I’m not going to go into what happens during the film, since if you don’t already know, you don't need me to spoil it for you. I’ll just say that you really don’t need to know or love Formula One to get the most out of this, in much the same way you don’t need to be into sharks or swimming to enjoy Jaws. However if you do know your Balestre's from your Ecclestone's then there's lots of goodies in here for you.

So why does this work where Grand Prix, Le Mans, Days of Thunder and Driven all failed so badly? Well for starters it’s scripted by Peter Morgan who of course wrote the aces screenplays for The Queen and The Damned United as well as Frost/Nixon for director Ron Howard. It’s a good tight script that sticks closely to the facts and events of that ’76 season. Next up are the two main actors who not only look the part but manage to act it too. Chris Hemsworth as the cocksure James Hunt and Daniel Brühl as the intense perfectionist Niki Lauda. Both are totally convincing, even if at times the brushstrokes on screen are a little broad, sometimes in order to cram as much into a reasonable running time you need to simplify things. The third reason for me loving this film so much has to go to Danny Boyle’s regular cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, who goes all out and gives the film a look somewhere between the frantic hyper editing and multiple camera set ups of a modern film, and a world seen through Timothy Leary’s 60s specs. So business as usual for ADM then. Visually it’s one of the most sumptuous films I’ve seen for a while, and yet despite using every modern trick in the book, it still manages to convince as a period piece. As such, Rush begs to be seen at the cinema, the sound alone is astounding with the cars screaming around the circuits to a suitably propulsive Hans Zimmer score.

I really can’t recommend this film enough, it does everything it promises and more. Who would have thought Ron Howard would have it in him? That he would have the savvy to not take the easy way out and pile on the melodrama, to have the faith to stick with the truth. The fact that he has made a film as good as this makes me feel that I’ve misjudged him badly in the past. Having said that though, there is nothing in his filmography that I would ever want to return to ever again. Except this, which I’m sure I will watch again and again and again.

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