‘Rush’ is as forceful off the track as behind the wheel

Daniel Brühl, left, and Chris Hemsworth star in "Rush."
October 6, 2013

It is fitting that a Formula 1 race picture is released in Delaware on a weekend that brings attention to our state’s roots in racing. I confess to knowing little to nothing about either of the two, but for a film such as “Rush,” the burden is on it to fill in those gaps for its audience.

“Rush” had its work cut out for it in that department, as it focuses on the little-known, ’70s-set personal grudge match between hunky British playboy James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) and methodical Austrian racer Niki Lauda (played by Daniel Brühl). “Rush” does manage to draw us into its world, but does so in a way that is sneaky. It lays out miles of exposition in fairly short sequences, and before we know it, we are all brought up to speed, if you will.

While focused on men who must manipulate the various twists and turns of the road (literally and metaphorically), the plot itself is rather linear. They are both determined to be the 1976 F1 racing champion.

Hemsworth may not have wandered too far from his flowing Thor haircut and emphasis on appearance, but he is given much depth here as a playboy plagued by demons of loneliness as we watch him stifle the pain of a soured relationship through booze and babes. Brühl, because of life’s fateful hand, is given even more with which to work. He taps into Lauda’s internal struggles without making him maniacal.

Much can be credited to the charisma of the film’s two leads, as both Hemsworth and Brühl get lost in their respective roles while managing to shade them outside the lines with warmth and humanity. But the film’s greatest asset is its surefooted direction.

Ron Howard remains rooted in the very foundations of filmmaking that have been a strong point throughout his 36 years as a filmmaker (in fact, his first foot on the gas as director was the car-themed “Grand Theft Auto,” which makes “Rush” a sort of homecoming).

He infuses the film with more energy than he’s provided since 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind” (2008’s “Frost/Nixon” played like more of a personal character study). It’s largely due to cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, who bombards the theater during its thrilling race sequences.

It all comes together in a feature that feels as urgent and forceful in its moments off the track as it does behind the wheel.

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