Thursday, March 13, 2014

Short Cut Movie Review: Rush

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

It’s a result of severely reduced expectations that Ron Howard’s Rush managed to earn more than a little critical praise last year. As an example of its kind – the race car movie – it’s better than you might expect, but as an example of its kind more broadly – the sports movie – it’s sorely lacking in inspiration and spiritual uplift. The greatest sports movies draw their spectators in and make them stand squarely behind the hero so firmly and with such emotional investment that you can’t help but be overcome with emotion. I think of examples like Rocky or Breaking Away. Alternatively, they set up a tragic figure and become more a study of character and loss like in Raging Bull or Million Dollar Baby. Of the two protagonists in Rush – James hunt, the lothario playboy played by Chris Hemsworth, and Niki Lauda, the cautious and meticulous champion played by Daniel Brühl – neither one achieves either of those apotheoses necessary for greatness of character.

Screenwriter Peter Morgan is great at dialogue and plot. This is a fine example of a Hollywood screenplay, but it lacks nuance and bounds along through six years of Formula 1 racing in the early 1970s during which Hunt and Lauda were apparently fierce rivals. But Morgan never makes us feel that rivalry. He pays a lot of lip service through their mouths to the competition, but leaves out the elevation. Even after Lauda is severely burned in a nasty fiery crash and is near death in the hospital, there is never any kind of interesting moment between the two men acknowledging their respect for one another. Howard tries to demonstrate it through a few brief actions on screen. What should have been the big moment – Lauda telling Hunt that he was the impetus for getting back at the wheel after only seven weeks – fizzles rather than electrifies.

Howard’s direction of the racing scenes is capable for a director not traditionally known for this level of action. One plus is that the film spends relatively little time on the actual racing (perhaps a reflection of where Howard’s talents lie) and tries to focus more on the drama off the track, such as Hunt’s failed marriage to Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), a woman Morgan suggests he married in the hope it would settle his fast and hard lifestyle down.

Hunt could have been made into an interesting near-tragic character. Here’s a man who partied hard and lived in the fast lane, who was beautiful and charismatic, but wasn’t disciplined enough to win the championship more than once (the year Lauda was injured). He died of a heart attack at forty-two, a fact noted in passing by Lauda in losing narration. Hunt is the more compelling character. Morgan and Howard should have shifted the center more in his favor.

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