What is it about guys and cars? I don’t think I’m a stereotypical man, I’m not really into sport for example, but I do find the vigorous growl of a finely tuned engine to be a thing of audio beauty. Fortunately for those of us with a Y chromosome there is plenty of revving car action in Rush.
When I say I’m not really into sport, I do follow the international football tournaments, the Olympics and Wimbledon but apart from a brief love of NBA basketball back in 1992, that is pretty much it. I can’t get excited about Cricket or Rugby, Snooker bores me and, as is pertinent here, I’ve never been particularly interested in Formula 1 racing. That is until last year when I saw the absolutely superb documentary film Senna. Let me just say now that if you are reading this because Rush sounds like your sort of thing then you need to see Senna. Alternatively if you’ve just watched Rush and you enjoyed it then you need to see Senna. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve already seen Senna, you should watch it again, it is just the most amazing piece of film making. It is a brilliantly compelling documentary edited entirely from original footage and with no narration. I have no doubt that the existence of Rush is largely down to the success of Senna but it is a mixed blessing because this new film does not really compare.
Senna centred partly around the on track rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost whereas with Rush it is the lives of James Hunt and Niki Lauda that are documented on screen. Theirs is a compelling story and the film is well directed by sometime filmic genius Ron Howard. (Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, Parenthood and Splash more than make up for The Da Vinci Code.) Still, going in I was more interested in the screenwriter.
Peter Morgan specialises in dramatising the lives of real people. The Last King of Scotland was one of his as well as The Queen, The Damned United and the aforementioned Frost/Nixon which all showcased the chameleonic acting skills of Michael Sheen. (Sheen, incidentally has earned himself such a reputation for embodying recent historical figures with big media profiles that I’m surprised he didn’t get the title role in the new Diana film.) In my opinion Peter Morgan has written some of the best scripts in recent British cinema but the fact is that this latest film is better when the actors aren’t talking.
We get some nice scenes of Hunt and Lauda living their private lives and this all adds to the drama of their sport but the best bits of the film are unsurprisingly played out on the track and I actually found myself getting a little bored with some of the storytelling. Fortunately you never have to wait long for the next race.
A number of the Grand Prix are covered very quickly with flashes of speeding vehicles and a subtitle telling you which driver won, lost or retired with engine failure. These events are effective though in building up to two particular races, one in Germany and one in Japan, each of which will have you holding your breath. At these moments, the film rivals Speed as an adrenalin rush and you begin to see where the film got its name.
The film also makes sure the audience knows just how dangerous Formula 1 racing was back in the 1970s. This is done first through exposition, telling us that two racers died every year in the sport and then later there is a fatality in one of the races. (This isn’t the spoiler it sounds like.) After this you get a long shot of the crashed car and staring into the driver’s seat you slowly realise what you are looking at. It is pretty nasty and it raises both the stakes and the drama. It is crazy to think that this used to be acceptable in sport only a few decades ago. There are plenty of other films that show people who are prepared to die for an audience’s entertainment and adoration but these are historical like Gladiator or futuristic like The Running Man. Here we have a film that shows this happening in our lifetime (or at least that of your parents, don’t be smug) and it is harder to distance yourself from it. When you consider that Rollerball was released four years before the events in Rush it puts that film into a different context.
The other thing that places the race action above the rest of the film are the regular shots from the driver’s point of view, along the body work or inside the engines and wheel cases. It shows off the beauty of the machines and makes Hunt and Lauda’s racing more romantic than their love lives. I’m sure this is deliberate but it does make large sections of the film less interesting. This is worsened with some predictable story editing. When someone says ‘I will never get married’ see if you can guess what the next shot will be. How about when another character confidently states ‘this car will not break down’, where do you think that might be going? Mind you this last one does lead to one of my favourite (non race) parts of the film.
The performances are good and I would expect Daniel Brühl to get an Oscar nomination come next January, but you just too often get impatient to hear those engine noises again.
Is this one for the kids?
Nope, Rush is a 15 for sex, close ups of injury and repeated use of the word ashhole.
Bechdel Test Score = 1