A Desire to Win and a Need for Speed

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

url-2On the topic of car racing in movies, it’s evident that the “Fast and Furious” series has dominated that subject. Unfortunately, the increasingly over-the-top ridiculousness of the events in those films have forced any semblance of a plot to be forced into the trunk as the stunts run the gamut from fun to insanely dumb.

This is why director Ron Howard’s racing drama, “Rush,” comes at a perfect time for viewers who have acquired fatigue from the “F&F” sequels. Howard brings the true events surrounding famed Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) for a film that has just as much happening off the track as it does on it. Not only are there the bracing thrills of the racing sequences, but the clash of the two wildly different personalities, which is just as high-octane.

In the 1970s, James Hunt and Niki Lauda have established an intense rivalry upon meeting and competing in a Formula Three race. Hunt is arrogant and carefree, and Niki is a man of strict discipline, but both are fierce and talented drivers. Soon, these contrasts will bring their competitiveness even deeper. Later on, the two make their way into Formula One. As each race passes during the 1976 F1 season, the need to win becomes stronger, and the two drivers will do whatever they can to prove who’s better.

What make the relationship between Hunt and Lauda strikingly potent are the differences that influence their personalities to clash. Chris Hemsworth expertly brings two distinct sides to his character. There is the ’70s-party-boy attitude he displays as he revels in the lifestyle of a rock star when not racing, something that is immediately noticeable when he first appears at one of his races, courted by groupies.

When Hunt gets ready to drive, however, he shifts to absolute focus when he hits the track. Despite his foray with booze, drugs and women, Hemsworth truly makes the viewer believe his character is serious about his profession in the scenes where he’s trying to secure a successful run for his racing team.

There is one line of dialogue in particular, said by Hunt, that fully summarizes his character: “The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel. It’s a wonderful way to live. It’s the only way to drive.” He likes to live on the edge, rarely thinking of the consequences, which also reverts back to his partying ways. There is also one subtle thing that Hunt does that symbolizes this quote. A few times throughout the film, Hunt holds onto a gold lighter that he flicks on and off. He lives dangerously; he’s playing with fire, the gold color of the lighter emphasizing his desire to place first.

Daniel Bruhl, on the other hand, portrays Lauda as a driver who has a more by-the-books approach to the sport. His character, a rather pompous individual, is more responsible than Hunt, and Bruhl gives this character an air of someone who thinks he’s better than others because of his upbringing; he’s always talking down to Hunt and his partying ways. He’s deadly serious about his profession, but is easily quick-witted.

The racing scenes, thrillingly photographed by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, offer a genuine cinematic stimulus. Some parts of these sequences come in the form of point-of-view shots from inside the car, truly putting the viewer in the driver’s seat and delivering on the rush that the title promises.

The screenplay by Peter Morgan is equally invested in Hunt and Lauda’s on-track rivalry and their personal lives. Besides the racing, it’s beneficial for the narrative to show what the two experience off the track because it helps to display any anger or uncertainty they feel when something doesn’t end up in their favor, and the viewer sees how the characters apply those emotions to heat up their desire to win.

Morgan supplies the same amount of material to both Hemsworth and Bruhl, never making one of them a primary character and one a secondary; they both matter to the same degree. This is rather similar to when Morgan and Howard teamed up for the latter’s 2008 film, “Frost/Nixon,” another story that focused greatly on the interactions between two opposing characters.

Director Howard, as with some of his other films, such as “Frost/Nixon,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13,” spawns informative and insightful stories on notable, worldly figures. He specializes in his strong focus on characters and their extended interactions with others, and this helps the viewer in getting to know these individuals and their impact on their areas of expertise. With “Rush,” he continues this method of storytelling, and the way he handles the drama between the two leads makes the Grand Prix races all the more dynamic and rewarding when the film gets to them. Buckle up.

Final grade: A