September 8, 2013



The writer Peter Morgan is a whiz at boring into little-remembered (and in the US, sometimes little-known) crannies of recent history and scooping out the rich drama inside, with scripts like The Deal, Frost/Nixon and The Damned United to his credit, along with the more celebrated The Queen.  (His occasional forays into pure fiction with films like 360 and Hereafter have been less impressive.)  He collaborated on the movie adaptation of Frost/Nixon with Ron Howard, and the two of them are back with RUSH, which offers the exhilaration of a tale that will be fresh for most Americans, about the dueling egos and skills of the Formula One racing drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) as they challenged each other and the very real possibility of death as well, focusing on their tumultuous competition during the 1976 racing season.

Even more than Frost/Nixon, this is unusual territory for Howard, who usually prefers even his serious historical dramas like A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man to be easily digestible.  Both Hunt and Lauda were (in the case of Bruhl, who’s still alive, he presumably still is) difficult, demanding, prickly and arrogant.  They were brilliant in markedly different ways:  Hunt impulsive and reckless, Bruhl careful and obsessively detail-oriented.  For the most part, they didn’t like each other very much; although they eventually found a way to coexist, this isn’t a tale of longtime rivals who become buddies.

Telling a story like this, especially for an American audience that comes in with little knowledge–even of Formula One racing itself–and needs exposition on just about everything, poses a racetrack full of challenges, and Howard and Morgan don’t meet them all.  Lauda is a beautifully realized character, a rude (perhaps borderline-Aspbergers) perfectionist who lives by a code and is capable of being mellowed, and Bruhl, in his first major Hollywood role (he’s also in the Wikilinks drama The Fifth Estate) is superb, especially when things go horribly wrong for Lauda during that 1976 season.  Hunt is a more familiar movie figure, the arrogant hunk who sleeps with models (most notably Suzy Miller, played briefly but strikingly by Olivia Wilde) and any other women who come his way, parties during every moment when he’s not actually on the track, and possesses the innate, intuitive feel behind the wheel of a born racer.  Although the material gives Hemsworth much more to work with than Thor ever could, he doesn’t succeed (nor does the script) in bringing us more than a superficial knowledge of what’s going on in Hunt’s own internal combustion engine.

A subject matter like elite race-car driving, of course, is a gift to a moviemaker, and Howard (who started out as a director almost four decades ago with the car-centric Grand Theft Auto, before that title became an altogether different kind of signifier) delivers tense, kinetic, atmospheric racing sequences, aided by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Danny Boyle’s favorite DP) and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill.  They don’t reinvent the form (this isn’t the Gravity of race-car driving), but their work is accomplished and cohesive, without the nonstop cutting that make so many action scenes all but incoherent in contemporary movies.  Howard, while perhaps too polite a filmmaker to dig as deeply into these intense men as would have been required for a real dramatic epiphany, nevertheless tells their story lucidly and with an amount of grit that’s unusual in his filmography.

Rush is a film about men who truly leave it all on the track, their bodies and souls included, and watching the film, it’s hard to feel that Howard and Morgan have the same kind of crazy commitment (Howard is apparently soon to direct his third in the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code series, a guaranteed spinner of money).  There’s another version of Rush, perhaps, that might have been as extraordinary as its subject.  This one is a fine, well-told story about a piece of sports history that’s well worth remembering.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."