Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fast And Loud

Reel To Reel: Rush

Going Rate: Worth full price
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl
Rated: R
Red Flags: Adult language, several lusty sex scenes

Formula One racing takes a backseat to NASCAR in terms of popularity in the United States. So it's good that Rush is more about competitive drive, much in the vein of Chariots Of Fire, except this film is a briskly-paced thriller that won't put people to sleep.

We first meet James Hunt (Hemsworth), a driver with Austin Powers' DNA in 1970's England. He's a boozing, womanizing speed freak who lets the good times roll. Hunt is doing laps on the Formula Three circuit -- racing's equivalent of the minor leagues -- when he spins out alongside Austrian racer Niki Lauda (Brühl), a disciplined racer from a blue-blood family with the personality of tire tread. Thus begins a rivalry that will lead up to a climactic 1976 season.

Lauda buys his way into racing though a bank loan after a falling-out with his father, eventually joining the Ferrari team and moving up to Formula One, but he has to haggle his way into the driver's seat. The wealthy financier of Hunt's racing team takes a page from the Lauda book and buys into racing's big leagues without the need for sponsors. Both drivers make pit stops for ladies: Hunt scores supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), and Lauda picks up Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara) after a social outing flames out.

On the track, Hunt is the. risk-taker. He merrily flirts with death, something that helps him flirt with the ladies, and he'll push the bounds of safety and sanity. Lauda is the brains, figuring out how to make cars run faster and trying to race smarter while staying alive. We see reminders Formula One racing devours its own in deadly crashes and fires, and still these race on.

Rush shows us the intensity of Formula One with crisply photographed race sequences and montages that guide us through Hunt and Lara's quest for the championship, which like NASCAR, works on a point system accumulated over an entire season of racing. For the uninitiated, it could be like trying to comprehend the BCS. Director Ron Howard also re-uses a technique that worked well in Apollo 13: use snippets of sportscasters and reporters as a stealth narrative track.

Off the raceways, Hunt faces sharp curves. His racing team folds, leaving him to scramble for another. He sputters in his marriage to Suzy, who can handle a husband who boozes, cheats or speeds, but not all three. Lauda begins winning races after changes in Formula One rules force Hunt's team to reconfigure his car. Both drivers keep throttling up. Eventually, somebody's gonna spin out again.

I saw Rush with my Royal Father, racing fan for as long as I can remember. Although it was my Uncle Bob who ended up getting behind the wheel on the track, Dad also did some rallying. My racing career never developed beyond the Pinewood Derby in Cub Scouts. But like I mentioned, your enjoyment of this film is not dependent on your affinity for racing. Ron Howard has crafted a highly-watchable sports film that's not really a sports film or a racing film. It's an accelerated run through the lives of two people who love fast cars, danger, winning, and beating the competition.

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