TAYLOR: A Racing Movie Done Right
Friday marked the nationwide release of director Ron Howard’s ambitious project to bring the epic 1976 Niki Lauda and James Hunt battle for the Formula One world championship to the big screen.
In the past movies centered on auto racing always end up in racing lore as either shining examples of a time capsule in history (“Le Mans” or “Grand Prix”), decent attempts with some good aspects that fail (“Days of Thunder”), or complete over-reactive nonsense (“Driven”).
So where will “Rush” — a movie based on a true story with a Hollywood elite director rank when all is said and done? I went to the theater like many race fans did on opening night to find out for myself.
The first noticeable aspect of the movie happened before the film even started rolling. Examining the crowd I think was an important barometer of who this movie was appealing to based off of previews. The crowd gathered and the people I expected (racing fans, people who work in racing seeing as how I live in Concord, N.Cc) began to file in but another unique crowd soon followed. Young theater goers — boyfriends and girlfriends and many guys in the 18 to 26 age group who it appeared had no real massive interest in the sport of auto racing. A girl in front of me asked her boyfriend if it was going to be a boring racing movie and would she get confused? She quickly got her answer.
With “Rush” as with any other racing movie one has to ask is it a racing movie or is it a real-life character drama with racing as its backdrop? This is where racing movies often get lost with people — it is cool and all but the story is what keeps the audience engaged. “Rush” does the best job I have seen to this point of any racing movie of mixing the two. This is not surprising given director Ron Howard’s known story-telling skill and also his love for Formula One. Both are immediately evident in this film.
“Rush” starts out a bit slow to the people who just want to see the racing aspect of the movie. The plot is being set. This is an important aspect and it seemed to grab the viewers it needed to before the real racing meat of the story set in.
By the time the 1976 season-the main focus of the movie-plays out the audience had gotten to know both Niki Lauda and James Hunt as characters. Played brilliantly by Daniel Bruhl and Chris Hemsworth respectively they come across as one would imagine the real drivers to have been like in 1976. The plot at this point is already shining and the audience in the theater seemed surprisingly into it. As an avid fan of the sport, I knew the story of 1976 and as it unfolded on screen I paid close attention to the portion of the audience who I knew did not know the story. Their reaction told the tale that this was playing out as a darn good drama movie that just happened to be about racing.
That is not to say “Rush” is a better drama than a racing movie. In fact, I think they are even. By using mostly all the real cars used in the season and amazing camera-work along with beautifully woven television images of the actual events of the season the element of realism is very impressive.
Intricate shots reminiscent of 1966s classic F-1 movie “Grand Prix” are present in “Rush” to appeal to us detail-oriented racing folk. Pistons pumping and flames thrusting out of the Ferrari and McLaren and the sight of the six-wheeled Tyrrell on the grid should be more than enough to satisfy the motorheads. The beautiful sound is also well captured.
So with all this being said it takes us back to the main question of where will “Rush” rank down the road as a racing movie? To this race fan I rank it as No. 1. Its ability to interweave a true racing drama with action realistically while still appealing to a modern audience is something very difficult to do.
I walked out of the theater with a big smile on my face. As a racing fan I knew I would, but it was those people in the lobby — the girlfriends talking to their boyfriends about Niki and James as characters and how good the movie was. “I really related to Niki I loved that character,” one girl exclaimed in the lobby post-movie. I indeed thought to myself if they knew this was a true story, although the movie hints and shows it it is not in-your-face evident to the common movie goer.
The non-racing fan’s reaction to the movie is what is most evident on the ranking scale. “Rush” is a popcorn movie, an accurate drama, and a brilliant racing movie all wrapped in a great package. We should all thank Ron Howard for this gem. It is a racing fan’s dream cinematic masterpiece.