I originally wasn’t even going to see Rush, having written it off as a stupid macho film about a stupid macho rivalry in a sport I don’t care for, but the mere exposure effect set in due to having seen the trailer a million times. That combined with the great reviews it’s been getting, as well as my appreciation for the talent involved and just general love of movies, wore me down and convinced me. It was pretty good, I still wouldn’t say it was great, but it kept me entertained during it’s runtime and helped me realize something about Ron Howard as well as sports movies in general.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept in film criticism called the auteur theory, the basic idea (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong because I read the essay a while ago and it was kind of dry) is that the director should be considered the primary “author” (auteur in French means author) of a film. Now, because a film takes a lot of people working on it, it’s not always clear who is responsible for what. The only way you can really tell if a director is an auteur or not is to look at his or her body of work as a whole to see if consistent patterns and themes emerge. That way there’s a better chance of it actually being his or her vision instead of something a studio or screenwriter or some other creative force imposed on him or her.
So this is something I’ve been thinking about. I’ll admit sometimes I probably try to make things fit into the theory, possibly making directors out to be auteurs when they may or may not be, but whatever it’s still fun to think about. So now we come to Mr. Ron Howard. I’m sitting there in the theater; the movie’s just started. I already know it’s going to be about rivalry because I’ve seen the trailer a million times. The period stuff, especially in the beginning, is really great. What does this remind me of? Frost/Nixon, which I liked a lot better because it had to do with politics, something I find more interesting than racing. The rivalry element is still there though. Another Ron Howard film that I adore, Cinderella Man, has a rivalry in it, a sports rivalry at that. So what I propose is this: Ron Howard is to rivalries as Quentin Tarantino is to revenge. Kind of a comedown after that build up, but it felt really cool realizing this while I was watching the film. Of course, I haven’t seen enough Ron Howard films and maybe I’m completely off base once you take that into account, but let’s set that aside and go into the actual film. (finally)
So the film deals with the personal and professional rivalry between Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). As such, it spends a lot of time convincing us of how different they are and why that upsets the other person. I was worried they would go a bit overboard with this, but it didn’t hurt the film too much. It’s really easy to sum up the difference between them, so the film did get a tad redundant but it could have been way worse so I’m glad that didn’t happen.
The film’s greatest strength in my opinion is not the rivalry, but the sports movie aspect. Even though I’m not a giant fan of actual sports, if they’re done well, sports movies can be pretty great. While I’m not going to go as far as some and call this film great, it is pretty good and entertaining, exactly what you want out of a movie. There are two reasons why sports movies are better than actual sports: 1) the sport itself is portrayed in a more cinematic way, which is more interesting to me, and 2) you’re able to bond with the characters in movies more than real sports professionals, so you carry more emotions into the sports contest, whatever it may be.
Let’s take the first. One of my favorite types of sports movies are boxing movies; I love those while I’ve never watched an actual boxing match in my entire life. When you get the camera in the ring it becomes much more dynamic and visually stimulating. This is even why I would prefer to watch football on TV rather than actually going to a game, the camera can see more than a person (of course if you’re going to a big enough game these days they have a TV there, but you know what I’m saying). The same thing goes with the racing here. Why would you want to watch cars go around in circles unless you can get the camera in there and feel the speed? That’s right, you wouldn’t. While slightly disappointing in the long run when I remember that one car chase from Prisoners (which I had seen only a few days before) where the camera was swerving all over the place with car, overall the racing scenes were very well done. I really like when they show the point of view of the driver in a longer take, I’m sure that’s a lot harder than editing together shots of the sides of the cars, but it’s also a lot more effective to get a sense of speed and motion. One great thing they did here was to put the camera on the ground at the point of view of the grass on the side of the track. The cars went by so fast! It was great.
But if you’re just watching fast cars race around, it can be exciting but without the emotional investment it’s going to get boring after a while. Like the characters, you generally want somebody to win. It was kind of strange in this case because these two guys sort of got closer as the film went along, so even though they were trying to beat each other, you sort of got a feeling that it didn’t matter too much who won. I just wanted to know which one would, not that I cared too much either way. If I had to pick one I probably would have gone with Niki because I liked his philosophy and he had a lot to overcome, but I wasn’t sad with the way things turned out at all.
The rivalry aspect kind of turned me off initially, but I really liked how they resolved it. It turned out not to matter too much, which was my first impression of it anyway so it was nice to be on the same page with the movie. While I’m not going to be so quick to call it “great” and “oscar worthy” as everybody seems to be doing, it is very good and well worth your time. As I seem to be saying a lot lately, I don’t know if I would seek it out to watch it again, but I wouldn’t mind watching it again sometime down the road.
“You would… but trust me: watching you win those races, while I was fighting for my life, you were equally responsible for getting me back in the car.”
For Further Reading:
Reconsidering Ron Howard: Is He Actually a Good Director? (sort of relates to what I was talking about early on in my review, I read this after)
Review on Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop (read before I saw the film)