The biopic is nothing new to director Ron Howard. Frost/Nixon, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13—the man certainly knows how to make some of the best. It seems when he’s out to direct for pure entertainment’s sake, things seem to get in the way. At least it’s been that way since the ’80s. In the last 10 years, his Hollywood pictures have fallen by the wayside with The Missing and his two Dan Brown adaptations: The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. And the less said about his live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the better.
If there’s one thing the former Opie has always been open about, it’s his love for fast cars. His 1977 Grand Theft Auto was all about fast cars and fast women. While it never features any sort of car chases, he also directed the hilarious Michael Keaton vehicle Gung Ho, about an American transplanted to the world of the Japanese auto industry. Now, Howard has found the perfect opportunity to dive into the two things he seems best at: biographical filmmaking and fast cars. He brings the rivalry of Formula One racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) to the big screen in Rush.
Rush begins in 1976 as the German Grand Prix is about to get underway. Voiceover from Niki takes us back six years earlier where we get to see him climbing his way up the race circuit food chain. The rivalry begins when Niki and Hunt are both Formula Three drivers. After walking away from his family fortune, Niki takes out a loan of $2 million Austrian schillings and buys his way into the BRM Formula One team, where he meets teammate Clay Regazzoni (Pierfrancesco Favino).
As Hunt and Niki climb their way to the top, we also see the rise and fall of Hunt’s marriage to Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), along with Niki’s meet-cute and eventual marriage to Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara). Things reach a dramatic point when we get back to Germany in 1976, where we see Niki crash. He suffers third-degree burns to his head and lungs, but is determined to recover in order to return to finish the Formula One World Championship.
The cars fly fast and furious, as you’d expect they would in a film based around Formula One racing, but the meat of the story isn’t even the rivalry between Niki and Hunt. The heart of the story is in the relationship between Niki and Marlene. Niki thinks that happiness is a weakness, which Marlene obviously isn’t too fond of, but they love each other. And you believe it in Brühl and Lara. The bickering between Niki and Hunt is as good as it is thanks to the screenplay, courtesy of Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon and The Queen), but you can totally tell that sometimes Howard just wanted some great character moments to squeeze between the big races. The racing sequences are where the action is and Howard does not disappoint. Rush may not be the best film of the year, but it isn’t trying to be either. It may not even be one of Howard’s best films either, but it’s certainly one of his best in recent memory.
(Photos: Universal Pictures)