It’s okay to blink, you won’t miss a thing
Breakneck speeds, relentless ferocity and uncompromising personalities. Formula One is almost born for the big screen, yet with only Senna and arguably Driven to its name, the motor sport remains an unexplored avenue within the film industry. Coming off the back of Asif Kapadia’s multi-award winning 2010 documentary and the sport’s growing popularity Ron Howard marks his 22nd directorial appearance with the first true F1 feature film, Rush.
Set against the backdrop of Formula One’s golden age, the seventies – where the sport was terrifyingly dangerous and the drivers were rockstars – Rush explores the turbulent relationship between two very successful, but very different drivers. Powered by passion, competitiveness and arrogance, England’s James Hunt and Austria’s Niki Lauda engaged in one of sport’s greatest rivalries and the film showcases their constant battles from their early years as rookie drivers through to the grand stage that culminated in the infamous 1976 season.
Peter Morgan, who previously penned sport biopic The Damned United, provides the screenplay for Rush and though he certainly captures a similar seventies atmosphere to Tom Hooper’s football film his script is weaker and fraught with errors. The famous writing tip to show rather than tell is lost among painful exposition and lazy voice over. Ron Howard masks these mistakes with competent direction, hurrying the film along to ensure a fast rhythm, but never pauses regularly enough to give any scene meaningful impetus. Interesting plot tangents, such as Lauda’s unusual relationship with his wife (Alexandra Maria Lara who makes the most of a virtually silent role) and the psychology of the racers who put their lives on the line for a living, are only ever referred to, but never fully explored.
As the true standouts from the film, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl deliver powerful and emotionally rich performances as Hunt and Lauda respectively. Nina Gold, the casting director with an unrivalled eye for talent, continues to impress with two lead actors who match the characteristics of the drivers perfectly. Hemsworth’s brilliant-blue eyes, blonde hair and suaveness juxtaposing Brühl’s fiery attitude, stubbornness and broken English accent, the resemblance is uncanny. Their likeness is so remarkable in fact that you could easily be fooled into believing this is old footage of Hunt and Lauda. The two stars dominate the film, but any praise is diminished by the weakness of the support cast and their underdeveloped characters.
All mediums of production collide to deliver compelling action set pieces that perfectly capture the experience of a race day, but even they are underused. Hans Zimmer’s score is predictably stirring, yet surprisingly and impressively surpassed by the atmospheric sound design. Anthony Dod Mantle’s daring cinematography is rich and varied, offering a blend of visual styles and artistic flourishes. The unsettling nature of the aesthetic echoes the ever-changing quality of the sport and supplements the inner turmoil the characters suffer, but it also weakens the experience. The schizophrenic visual style and severe jump cuts that separate them only serve to confuse the viewer and emphasise the tragic inconsistency of the entire film.
With a strong budget, tried and tested formula, talented cast and experienced crew Ron Howard’s film was a grand opportunity to finally see a compelling feature length Formula One film, but his Rush is a forgettable movie that teases audiences with flashes of the high octane thrill ride they expected, but leaves them with little more than a middle of the road drama that suffers a stuttering start and never quite gets into gear.