Saturday, 14 September 2013

Rush - Mini Review

Admittedly, this review is a bit out of the ordinary but fuck you, this is my time to shine, not yours. I'm a motorsport fan. More specifically, I'm a Formula 1 fan and Ron Howard's latest movie is a look at two of the sport's more outspoken characters and their rivalry during the 1976 world championship. I went to see this movie last night and obviously felt moved enough to write a short piece about it despite it being in stark contrast to the material I would usually review.

I want to start off by saying that Rush is a good movie. It's a beautifully crafted gem of a film. Period pieces must be a complete pain in the ass to get right and there's always some dick end out there who'll spot something like a number plate which shouldn't have existed at the time (to be fair, this kind of thing really gets on my tits, too. If you have millions of dollars at your disposal, the least you can do is employ someone who knows their shit) but this has a damn good stab at recreating the world during the 1970's.

I don't want to give any plot points away and anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the sport will know how this ends but for all the film's good points (and there are many, of which we'll talk about later), I first wanted to speak to you about the points which left the film feeling like a bit of a hollow experience. Both the acting and the 'action' set pieces are excellent and wonderfully executed but it's the script and certain moments of character development which make this feel, for an instant, like a melodramatic piece of shit.

Quick history lesson for the uninitiated; Hunt and Lauda were friends off track. Pretty good friends, in fact (they shared a flat together for a short period of time) but their rivalry came to the fore on track. Lauda was a straight talking dude with a singular purpose to win but he wasn't an emotional wasteland. Hunt was, by all accounts, a bit of an irresponsible asshole but he too possessed a singular need to win. The film actually goes to great lengths to show you just how much of an asshole Hunt could be by showing you his reckless abandon on track and his fleeting relationships with a stream of chicks but then tries to cram in some weak characterisation a little later into the film by having him look at himself in a mirror while he's banging an air hostess in an airplane bathroom, like he's a tortured detective or some shit. This scene happens after he finds out that his wife is banging Richard Burton and, to be frank, the real Hunt didn't want to be married to this chick anymore anyway and actually sold her to Burton on the condition that if Burton didn't pay up, Hunt wouldn't sign any divorce papers. To me, that's a much more compelling protagonist plus it's a true account and wouldn't come off as hackneyed. How much more 'rounded' a character can you need than someone who actually fucking existed? Lauda, similarly, is portrayed as a bit of a humourless and impotent asshole who struggles to acknowledge anything emotionally. His detective archetype scene comes a little later into the film as well, as he stares into the distance while on his honeymoon, contemplating his new found happiness and how his contentment is 'the enemy'. Just to hammer this point home, it's night time but it's not raining which is a shame. If you're going for the 'troubled genius' motif, you might as well go the whole hog.

Conversely, the Hunt/Lauda relationship is portrayed as pure rivalry. There's no friendliness or warmth to their relationship as there was in real life and the 'they were bitter enemies until they learnt to be friends' card is played well and truly in this movie. In fact, I think Ron Howard is actually trying to shove this card up your ass just so he knows you've been paying attention. It's these points which made me feel like this film could have done without trying to conform to the 'sporting drama' mold. Save that shit for Rocky or something. 

So, the good shit;

The acting is great no matter how occasionally loaded and melodramatic the script can be, with a particularly noteworthy performance from Daniel Bruehl as Niki Lauda. Chris Hemsworth looks like he's having a great time being super buff and fucking awesome and his performance benefits from this but it's Bruehl who'll win the Oscar should it ever come down to that (to be honest, if he isn't given a nod by the Oscar board, I'll shit a clown, I swear to God).

As far as the superficial flourishes go, the effects are pretty damn good as they're mostly practical. The cars look sick as tits and the CG, when employed, is pretty convincing. During the racing sequences, there are these semi-stylised shots of the internal workings of the cars which look spectacular and the roar of their engines made me feel curiously sexualised (it usually does during race weekend, too). The film contains some truly disturbing practical effects scenes which highlight the brutality of the sport during the 70's. A highlight of the film's practical effects and indeed a highlight of Daniel Bruehl's kick ass performance is Lauda's recovery scene after his near fatal crash at the Nurburgring in Germany. It'll turn your fucking stomach but it's just so incredibly shot and acted. Man, I'm welling up now just thinking about it. As far as the film's soundtrack goes, it's pretty forgettable but it fits the movie and helps with the emotional gravitas of certain scenes. I think Hans Zimmer gets way too much credit, now. His Batman scores were probably the only thing I truly liked about Nolan's Batman movies but this sounds like something he pretty much tossed off while on a lunch break.

So, to summarise;

It's a fucking kick ass movie with great performances, great effects and some smart direction but I guess my main problem lies with how Hollywood! this movie feels it has to be. I suppose the argument could be that if a truer account were made into a movie, would it be as interesting or as compelling a drama as this? The sad fact of the matter is that no, it probably wouldn't and would only appeal to that niche market that Formula 1 similarly appealed to in the mid seventies. The irony here is that in 1976, it took the Hunt/Lauda rivalry to finally bring Formula 1 to the attention of the larger world. A micro-cosmic adventure, then, through time and space? Damn, this shit's cleverer than I thought.