Sunday, 27 December 2015

Rush (2013 movie) - more thoughts

When it was first released on DVD, I composed a blog post reviewing the 2013 movie "Rush".  This is the Ron Howard film which tells the story of the Seventies Formula 1 drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt.  I recently watched the movie again, and wondered whether my views and impressions might have shifted in the intervening period. I propose to leave aside for the most part any historical inaccuracies which I noticed.

From my late 2015 standpoint, I might describe the feel of "Rush" as being slightly "forced", a little airless and compressed. It is visually impressive, but lacking a touch of elegance, guile and finesse, notwithstanding the inclusion of a few powerful and insightful scenes.

It has been suggested that the movie's comparatively modest budget, and associated time constraints, might have contributed to its flavour and to some of its flaws. My thoughts on this are ambivalent - in places the film has a very "professional" look, but elsewhere one can see where corners might have been cut. For my own tastes "Rush" is a touch too "digital" and post-modern, lacking the charm and fluency of some earlier racing films.

Part of my assertion that the film is "forced" is based on something which I observed when I first saw it almost two years ago. The makers appear to have had a "checklist" of anecdotes and stories (some apocryphal) which they felt they had to pack in during the early portions of the picture. My sensitivity to this phenomenon may be traceable to my status as a 70s-F1-anorak. I appreciate that this would not occur as much to more casusl viewers.

The performances of the main actors attracted much comment. Daniel Bruhl rightly received much praise for his portrayal of Niki Lauda. Quite apart from the physical resemblance, he also managed to capture many of the Austrian driver's traits and mannerisms.

Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt was less universally acclaimed, and it is true that he does not quite evoke the nuances of James' inimitable persona, or the voice. The comparison between the two actors is invidious, though. It may well be more difficult to convincingly play Hunt than it is with Lauda.

I think that "Rush" really gets on track during the scenes relating to the close season of 1975/76, when we are shown Hunt's struggles to get a drive for the forthcoming season, as well as his personal problems. Cliches aplenty, of course, but some very fine moments too. In these sequences Hemsworth is very good.  The movie improves at this point because it becomes less about "back-story", composites of events and time-compression and more about a straight account. The dramatic raw-material is also better....

The Nurburgring sequences I think were well produced, without being excessively long or sensationalist, and the hospital scenes were handled more delicately than one has come to expect in films of this sub-genre or in "biopics".

The dialogue between Niki and James at Monza is convincing and credible, and the press conference where Lauda speaks is actually better than similar scenes in most movies. However, the bit where the journalist is beaten up has rightly been deplored as over-the-top and misrepresentative. A real fly in the ointment, that one. On the plus side, the imagery used at the start of the Monza race is highly effective in conveying the tension and the apprehension.

As for the racing action scenes in "Rush", well on reflection they are a mixed bag. Some are good, and CGI is used to fine effect, but others are less dazzling. One wonders why this was.  The "arty" close ups of crash helmets, suspension parts and so forth are entertaining, and a feast for the senses, but hardly original.

The build-up to the final 1976 race at Fuji is also well done, with a "less is more" ethos concerning dialogue. Visuals, sound and music all help to create the mood and the tension before and during the event.

The final scene at the airport is noteworthy both for its quality and its plausibility. It also comes as quite a surprise to have something this reflective and pensive after what had preceded it. Philosophizing, yes, but in a believable and poignant vein.

Looking at it honestly, "Rush" is a good and entertaining, if unexceptional, piece of cinema, its main strengths being Bruhl's performance, the inherent attractiveness of the subject matter and the occasional amusing or poignant scene.

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