This review was originally published on September 7, 2013 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.
From 1950 to 1980, a staggering 42 men lost their lives competing in the sport of Formula One racing. That's a stunning number, isn't it? The fatality count lurks beneath the surface of Ron Howard's "Rush", especially when the film reminds you that someone would have to be a bit of a lunatic to strap themselves into a 180mph bomb with nothing but highly combustible fuel tanks as buffers. The two main characters of the film, which is based upon a true story, are drivers Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). The two couldn't be more different, Lauda, an Austrian, is all precision and science while the British Hunt embodies confidence and wild abandon. Their lifestyles, method of driving, and motivations are clearly in direct opposition, creating a natural rivalry that shows off the best side of sport, the true beauty of serious competition.
We don't get many films about professional racing, only "Senna", "Days of Thunder", and "Talladega Nights" come immediately to mind, so it's always refreshing to see a film attempt to capture the speed and power of the elegant machines built to satiate humankind's relentless need to race. Director Ron Howard does well here to put you behind the wheel, but also gives us continually alternating views, we see the spectators, owners, and television announcers routinely. Given the drivers are wearing helmets, and speed is difficult to convey without physical movement, accolades should be handed out to a film that, more than once, makes you think, "Aaargh, don't crash!" A rich triumph that gracefully hammers home its themes,"Rush" sets expectations and then defies them, the narrative crowning a hero only to show that there may have been another way to get there. The most compelling force in the film isn't one of the main characters so much as it is the idea of two people pushing each other to the brink, and then way over it.
There are only a few tiny items to quibble with where "Rush" is concerned, minor details that shouldn't be more than a speed bump on your road to enjoyment. The first is a merciless use of "Gimme Some Lovin'" in a montage of racing, it comes off as completely cheesy, plus it was already used in a racing movie, "Days of Thunder" (along with a couple dozen other films). Additionally, the first 45 minutes of the film are also fairly rote, content to set the stage and little more. Lastly, ugh, definitely avoid the trailer to this film. I was unlucky enough to see it prior to seeing the film, and the marketing folks really should take a bow for revealing so many crucial plot points. If you can go into "Rush" unspoiled, your experience will be seriously heightened, so hopefully you're able to pull off that trick.
However, "Rush" has a multitude of strengths that far outweigh any deficiencies. It often portrays the very face of courage, but it's also clever enough to present two different versions, as courage isn't a "one size fits all" attribute. There aren't really good and bad guys here, the characters feature more depth than those simple labels, and the narrative is much more complex than your average sports film. The movie also follows one of the cardinal rules of good cinema: it ends like a freight train. There's a subtle little pivot, switching the audience's sympathy, which is almost never done by anyone who doesn't have the label "Best Director" attached to their resume. Ron Howard has two of those Academy Awards, so clearly he's able to set the pace and make the film he wants to, and it shows, as the initial standard setup is jettisoned for something truly unique and ambitious by the closing moments.
"Rush" is to be lauded for portraying motor sports as something more than fast cars going round and round, getting to the heart of what it is to risk your life every time you do your job. The glory, the lethal mistakes, the differing personalities needed to sustain excellence on the edge, "Rush" has a sprinkling of each of these elements, plus comedy and tension as well, finishing as a film that's firing on, wait for it, all cylinders. As a movie that takes full advantage of the big screen, using excellent sound design paired with intimate camera angles in order to make you feel the throttle, "Rush" is one of those rare sports movies that's compelling as both a drama and a spectacle.
SCORE: 8.6 / 10
Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and wishes he could hoist a championship trophy, just once.