I like Ron Howard. He has brought some really special movies to the screen. He has had a very long career in the industry and is very professional. It is because of this that my reaction to all the hype about Rush was tempered.
Usually when I see a movie heavily promoted it is a sure sign that it will not be very good. But I ignored all that, enjoyed the various promotional intros on the sports channels and car magazines and looked forward to seeing the film for myself.
Sorry to say I was disappointed with what Ron directed. Now, to be fair, he had some pretty high hurdles to clear. Frankenheimer’s 1966 movie Grand Prix may have been cluttered with a back story of romance, infidelity, etc., that had little to do with the world of Formula One, but his filming and screening techniques made those parts easy to forgive as the race scenes were way beyond anything that had been done prior and sometimes since. There was also the Steve McQueen vehicle, Le Mans, which was not a favorite of the movie critiques of 1971; but people who new and loved racing saw some filming that also touched your soul and provided you with some of the realities of top level racing of that era.
To be fair, Ron Howard has admitted that he was not familiar with F1 (Formula One). He was intrigued with the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda and was willing to learn about that level of racing and how it was in the mid-1970’s so that he could tell the story. That, after all, is the responsibility of the director of a movie, to tell the story.
Let me say that the cinematography was excellent. The technical challenges must have been tremendous, and Ron and his team did a spectacular job putting it on film. The mix of their footage with cuts to video monitors of the actual races was just about seamless. The staging and execution of the Lauda crash was spot on.
Where I was disappointed was in the creation of the two key characters. By the end of the film there were bits of archival footage of James and Niki and it was clear that Niki was a far smaller man than was depicted on the film. Come on, if they could make Hobbits, why not at least try to keep that aspect of the physical differences intact.
The James Hunt and Niki Lauda portrayed in Rush was two dimensional. It was like characters from a comic book (now known as graphic novels). All you got on James Hunt was that he liked to shag and would throw up before he climbed into the cockpit. Yes, that was part of Hunt, but there was much more. He was a jock through and through. He excelled in many sports and “had” to win. In school sports he would be brought to tears if he didn’t win. Yes, he would qualify as a sex addict, but it was also a characteristic of the times he lived in. Contrary to ones intuition, race car driving is arguably the most physically demanding of any sport (stick and ball included). Hemingway is attributed with saying that mountain climbing, bull fighting, and race car driving were sports and everything else were games.
We did get more insight about the man Niki Lauda when we were allowed to be in the room when he and his father had a conversation on Niki’s career choice. The scene where he would drive his future wife’s compact sedan was not insightful. It was formulaic and two-dimensional. Which is too bad because it didn’t have to be. When she asked him to drive fast and he went into fast mode it should have been shown with the proper perspective. Someone should have had a professional driver take Ron Howard out for a spin around a track in a sedan and show him how it feels to have a real race car driver as a chauffer. I’ve been there and it is an unforgettable experience, not the thing that was shown in the film. If you want to get an idea of what it is like check out this YouTube video of Ricardo Patrese doing one lap with his wife.
There was a lot more that should have been done to provide the audience with more than just a cartoon view of these two drivers. You can find a BBC documentary (on YouTube) about Hunt where he is shown at Albert Hall in jeans and a t-shirt playing a trumpet to huge applause. That was typical Hunt. Yes, he was a playboy but that is not a complete enough view to him as a person.
I guess that I expected Ron Howard to be more thorough than what I saw. It would not have taken a lot of big things, just a few key things to build the characters of James and Niki into people that we, the viewers, could really identify with and care about, but I think he missed that opportunity, and that’s a shame.
No Rush is not the greatest movie of the year as implied in its advertising, but it could have been.