Ron Howard has directed a $50 million dollar banal, predictably romanticized, Hollywood film, RUSH, based on a “true story” of a renowned male rivalry in Formula One racing lore. Ironically the movie was so “formulaic” that I found it difficult not to forecast the dialogue and the accompanying cinematography as events materialized. The heavens open up with a blazing sun at the moment of victory; the grinding and spewing of white smoke from the turbocharged engines emit their groans and roar at the moment of orgasm; supercharged cars are like their supercharged drivers – sleek and fast – as fast as they can be pushed before splintering apart. Bombast, bluster, swagger and disdain seem to characterize the protagonist’s behavior toward one another – both are “assholes” – a term they often utter to one another sotto voce and I agree.
This loud, ear-shattering, tumultuous movie is set during the 1976 Formula One racing season focusing on the competition between a handsome blonde British playboy James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) who is the intoxicating, wild Dionysius to the analytical, methodical Appolonian Austrian driver, the “darker” Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl.) The psychological collision between two ambitious men who are willing to risk death in their pursuit of the world championship – racing in grand prix after grand prix – from country to country, delivers some dizzying visual excitement. Yet the film despite its big budget cast of characters, special effects, and pounding musical soundtrack lacks any emotive drama. I am left unmoved.
RUSH gives us a touch of the biographical history of James Hunt and Niki Lauder; each of them born into wealthy aristocratic households, and single-mindedly pursuing their dream of racing in opposition to familial pressure. Ron Howard does not attempt to delve any deeper into their psyches except to bifurcate them as attractive vs. unattractive, reckless vs. deliberate, and loyal vs. unfaithful. There are lovers and wives in the movie but they are basically accessories to the men who love their cars, speed, and have eyes only for one another. The intense competition between adversaries, involving the risk of crashing and burning, creates a subliminal, sentimental attachment between foes. There is a connection that only they can understand having competed in the same fierce battleground.
Oddly what I found most compelling about RUSH was capturing a glimpse of a sub-culture that involves machines and the engineering that goes into making these potential “burning infernos.” The physical vulnerability of the participants is ever-present as is the thin line between adroitness, skill and chance. Once strapped into their Ferraris or McLarens the ace drivers are flying on the racetrack tempting death and incineration, and like life there are no safe passages.