I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Rush

tn_rushRUSH is a Ron Howard movie about race car drivers, but it’s better than that sounds. It follows the expected template and visual techniques except that it has two protagonists, two narrators, and really made me bounce back and forth about which one I was rooting for.

The guy most prominently featured on the poster is James Hunt, played by Thor. He’s the long-haired blond rock star of Formula One racing, a charming, dry-witted Brit, a fun guy, great racer and legendary lover of women. If he wasn’t so charismatic he’d be easy to hate because he has it all except the championship, and that he’s confident he’ll get too.

The other guy is Niki Lauda, played by Daniel Brühl, the NATION’S PRIDE Nazi sniper from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. He’s kind of Hunt’s opposite. He’s terrible at making friends, and doesn’t see that as a bad thing. He’s blunt and insulting, finds a way to push his way onto a team and doesn’t mind that his own teammates will resent him for it. When those teammates go out of their way to be helpful and welcoming he doesn’t reciprocate. Also he agrees with Hunt saying he looks like a rat.

But he’s brilliant. He’s not just a good driver, he tells the team how to reconfigure the car to make it faster. He explains later that he was blessed with an ass that can detect any problems in a car that he sits in. When he gets on the Ferrari test track he tells them their cars are shit. He’s like the P.L. Travers of racing.

You may be like me, you think of Howard as kind of a square when it comes to directing. Pretty good skills but very middlebrow tastes, making for mostly bland movies. If so, don’t worry. I’d say this is at the top of his abilities, like APOLLO 13. Maybe better, because Lauda is such a memorable character I think he will stick with me longer than those astronauts did, even though their predicament was more dramatic. And for what it’s worth the screenplay is by Peter Morgan, the guy who did THE QUEEN and FROST VS. NIXON: REQUIEM. You know, he does a particular kind of thing that he’s good at, and it’s kind of an interesting mix with Howard. Actually I just remembered that Howard did FROST/NIXON so this is nothing new, but it’s not a bad team.

mp_rushIt’s obvious what happened here: Ron Howard wanted his own DRIVEN. Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone’s race car movie had INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS cast member Til Schweiger, so Howard got one too. And then he probly wanted Jason Statham for the lead but he wasn’t available so Howard said “Who else looks good with long hair? I know – Thor.” But then to get that Statham vibe he wanted the Basterds guy to get burned up like Frankenstein did in the DEATH RACE series. So he found a true story where that happened. Or who knows, maybe it’s not even a true story. I don’t know fuck all about Formula One racing history – do you? How do we know they didn’t just do some creative Wikipedia updates?

I mean, even the actual people who run Formula One, if they’re smart and don’t want to be obsolete they’re probly doing some careful curating of what information gets onto Wikipedia, otherwise somebody out there might get a hold of their recipe and use it to create the more powerful Formula Two.

Anyway, whether it’s totally made up or “true” I think either way it’s a good story. In DRIVEN Stallone wasn’t the only lead either, but how are you gonna care more about fuckin Kip Pardue than Stallone? Howard actually pulls off the trick of luring you in to see a movie star and then getting you more interested in a character actor. At first it’s a villainous type of interesting: I couldn’t wait for Thor to put this dick in his place. But after the poor guy gets burnt to a crisp and then insists on racing again right away – doesn’t even stop to ask if Padme is safe – how are you not gonna start pulling for him to win?

Of course it’s like any racing movie, there’s a whole lot of racing montages with commentators explaining everything that we need to know about what’s going on and where they’re ranked for the season and stuff. If you had the sound off it might as well just be a non-narrative collection of race car photography. In that sense it’s like TALLADEGA NIGHTS without the jokes or SPEED RACER on reverse acid. There’s probly not another good way to tell a story about a racing season. But I never worried about a lack of cinematism because the thrills really are in the characters. Both are on their own journey, both have lessons to learn about life, love and sport, and those lessons tie into or are spurred on by their competition with each other.

Also, they both genuinely dislike each other, and both are right to. They don’t just automatically respect each other. They gotta earn it.

There were a bunch of parts where I was waiting for the bullshit Hollywood thing to happen, and then it thankfully didn’t. For example SPOILER after Niki is out of the race I was convinced he would limp over and give some piece of advice to James’s team that would help him win. Thanks for not doing that, fellas.

But there were a couple big moments, especially in the last lap (get it, racing) that sent bullshit alerts to my brain’s email. One was the scene where Lauda was watching the race on the hospital TV while his lungs were being vacuumed. I mean, even if they would let him do it, what are the chances the timing would work out? (Brutal use of CGI, by the way, making it look like they’re really stuffing a pipe down his throat.) The other was a particularly mean-spirited question at a press conference. I know those guys can be dicks, but this one seems a little hard to swallow (like a lung vacuum). Whether or not these incidents are true to the fake Wikipedia page they struck me as phony. But on the plus side both were setting up for nice moments between the characters in later scenes. So although I opposed these scenes I learned from them over time, and I hope they learned from me too.

There’s something really nice about bonding between rivals or enemies. I don’t know if you guys have this, but for me it’s hard to hold grudges. I’ve learned to mostly avoid conflicts over the years, but if there’s somebody I used to have problems with and I run into them years later, more often than not I treat them like an old friend. I feel like we went through something together. I get nostalgic.

In my life as a critic I wouldn’t say I ever had enemies, but I had a couple word scuffles. There was the time on The Ain’t It Cool News when David DeFalco challenged me to a fight over what he saw as a personally insulting review of his movie CHAOS, and it turned into a big ridiculous Talkback incident.  That guy really hated me, and I’m sure I probly was too harsh with him about some of it. His reaction was ridiculous and the Talkbackers made fun of him, but it was also embarrassing to me because I had created this legend of being some mysterious badass and it would’ve been pretty great if I actually thought I could fight the guy. But I didn’t. In that sense he won.

Still, the way I am, the whole fiasco kind of endeared him to me. Years later when I wrote some positive things in a review of another movie he made, Dave and I had a nice email exchange, and he’s written me occasionally since. To this day if I come across a reference to a movie he’s in, or even when I think about the recent success of Dave Batista in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, RIDDICK and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY I think of how The Demon really believed in Batista and was trying to help him become a movie star back when he put him in WRONG SIDE OF TOWN and executive produced HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN. And I think of DeFalco more like an old buddy than a guy I had beef with.

Another example is Harvey S. Karten, who rejected my application to the Online Film Critics Society back in the late ’90s. I don’t know if he was right or wrong, but obviously I disagreed with his choice at the time, and I had some fun adding a “Rejected From OFCS” banner to my sight and quoting his email as critical acclaim on my first self-published book. I never communicated with him again until out of the blue about a decade later he emailed me to inform me that I was quoted on a BLACK DYNAMITE ad in the New York Times. No mention of our previous history, but I took it as a sign of respect of some kind, that whether or not he liked my writing he acknowledged that I was still at at all these years later. Somehow it can be nicer to get a small compliment from somebody like that than a big one from a good friend.

RUSH is a movie about that type of relationship, and that’s why I think it’s special. But it’s worth watching for Brühl alone. It’s a great performance as a unique and hugely entertaining character. I’d watch him in any story just to see what he’s gonna do and how he will talk to people. It could be a caper movie where he alienates the whole crew by telling them he’s the brains of the operation, or a DIE HARD rip off where the hostages all can’t stand him but he saves them anyway, or some kind of secret agent thing where he constantly offends the President and cabinet members without seeing anything wrong with it. Or it could even be about him having to babysit some precocious kids, that would be a good one too. Whatever it was it would be pretty enjoyable, and so is RUSH.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 at 2:08 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

36 Responses to “Rush”

  1. I’ll probably see this but I initially avoided because well….”A Ron Howard Film”.

  2. Great film, i really enjoyed it. Formula 1’s never been my cup of tea, but my dad’s always watched it, so i’ve known of Hunt and Lauda since i was a young child. Thor’s not exactly like Hunt, but he does a great job of showing Hunt’s outward bravado and inner turmoil. Daniel Bruhl, though, is phenomenal as Lauda, absolutely phenomenal. He just IS Niki Lauda, it doesn’t seem like acting, it’s so convincing. I thought for a while during the first 15 minutes or so that it was going to be another one of these heavily fictionalised shows that has to explain everything. There’s an element of that kind of “I’m James Hunt, a boisterous lover of ladies”, “I’m Niki Lauda, meticulous race genius”, but i suppose that was to establish the characters for people not from Europe and not aware of either man and their history, but once that was out of the way i thought it was an excellent, and genuinely thrilling, film. Ron Howard did a fantastic job with the race scenes and with all of the character stuff. When Lauda puts his helmet on again for the first time after his accident, i was gritting my teeth and almost looking away from the screen, you feel his pain. Highly recommended, and you don’t need to be an F1 fan to enjoy it.

  3. I really am not into Formula 1 or sports movies in general, but I planned to check it out one day, just because Lauda is such a big celebrity over here and I really wanna take the chance of watching a biopic for once, that let’s me compare an actor’s performance with his real life counterpart, just by turning on the TV on a random Sunday afternoon. (Which is when those Formula 1 races happen.)

  4. Thanks for the Rush II-link. Bruhl looks even more villainous in that one.

  5. It’s still utterly perplexing that you were rejected by the OFCS Vern.

    I’ve read a wide range of online, book and magazine film criticisms over the past 20 years. Some of the more ‘academic’ writers can leave me a bit cold, wondering either what the hell they’re talking about, or questioning if they even love movies in the first place.

    Other online critics clearly have an intelligent and mannered approach, but can be as boring as bat-shit. And it shows by the comments they get(or don’t get) from readers.

    I’m grateful for guys like Ebert who made film writing accessible to us laymen. His love for movies was evident, and he didn’t condescend to anyone. A humble teacher.

    The reviews here and the talkbacks are the best ones out there.

    Being outside of the OFCS as an Outlaw is much cooler anyway and totally fits the badass image.

  6. I’m with you on the subject of nemeses, Vern. I remember one time me and AsimovLives really got into it (I know, hard to believe, two even-tempered guys like us) over I forget what movie. It got pretty vicious and personal for reasons I can’t remember. Then months later we both apologized. I feel like we respect each other now, but we had to have it out first to get to that place. If somebody else tries to attack him for letting his crazy J.J. Abrams-nickname-making freak flag fly, I’ll get his back. Because we’re fight brothers now.

    I didn’t have much interest in this movie before, but now I’ll have to check it out.

  7. Yeah, keep hearing this is a good one but can’t bring myself to feel any urgency to watch it. Same with Howard’s CINDERELLA MAN. But I reckon RUSH will be aces one Thanksgiving holiday in the future when I need a family-get-together movie that we can all enjoy & not be offended by.

  8. More than I hate car racing I hate wikipedia.
    More than I hate wikipedia I hate guys who hold grudges.

    What’s ironic about those guys in my experience is that the ones who actively dislike me enough to “grudge” on me are the guys whose names I don’t remember, because I am not good at learning or remembering dudes’ names, and that, along with the fact that I probably said something about a girl they like or because they heard something bad about me from some girl’s ex-roommate or sorority sister or whatever (small world, lot of gossip, lot of overlapping social circles), is why they grudge.

    It’s a vicious circle, a circle of me being a small, unthinking asshole and them being big, overthinking assholes.
    My social & professional life’s background surrounds me with assholes & potential enemies I rarely notice or willingly interact with but are always there, like I’m Raylan Givens without the charisma, gun, anger issues, or legal-badge authority. Or hat.

    There’s probly some hatchets I should try to bury, but I don’t care enough or remember the guys’ names with whom I should be burying said hatchets. Nobody ever respectfully e-mails me 10 years after we pissed each other off. Maybe if I were in a horrible disfiguring accident they would send a card or something. But then that would be weirdly womanly and I’d like them even less, if I even remembered them, which I wouldn’t & don’t. Catch-22-22.

  9. The “respect between enemies” idea probably goes back to Achilles and Hector, but it’s greatest cinematic treatment was, is, and always will be Micheal Mann’s HEAT.

  10. And Ron Howard’s a much better director then he gets credit for. His early stuff, particularly, from Roger Corman car-race movies up to about the early 90s, is mostly pretty good.

  11. Howard’s best movie since APOLLO 13. This really is his THE RIGHT STUFF, but race car drivers instead of astronauts. The final act finally caps off that critical narrative space when both men make courageous decisions (in their own way), I fucking loved that.

    Anyway I thought Hemsworth did great with what amounts to a thankless role. As a superhero (and Hollywood seems to believe is a future A-star), he’s a good pick for this sort of a pretty boy, big smile, superficially likeable personality. I’m sure if Opie had made this 20 years ago, Tom Cruise would’ve played Hunt instead. Then again thinking about it if you ask me, Hemsworth has somewhat the same role/problem in those THOR movies. Hiddleston steals the show, but who has to wear a pretty absurd costume in broad daylight and sell it as “well of course a space alien who talks like Shakespeare would wear that!”

    Honestly the only “phooney” moment in RUSH for me was [SPOILER] Thor beating up that journalist who asked that shitty question. [/SPOILER]

    Fun Fact: Russell Crowe at one point was supposed to cameo as Richard Burton in RUSH. For whatever reason, that shit didn’t happen.

  12. Majestyk – I once thought I’d kinda got to that point with Mouth, whose opinions I respect even when I totally disagree with them (which happens pretty often it seems). Then “Young Adult” happened, and… well… so much for that. Which is a pity because I find him very articulate and often more insightful than I am – “Zero Dark Thirty” being a prime example. Even though I disagree completely with Mouth about it’s worthlessness (I think it’s a good movie despite its flaws, and has an incredibly powerful moment at the end that even “got” me, a foreigner who had no personal emotional investment in the events that took place), he articulated so many of the problems I had with that movie so very well that I was kinda shocked when reading his thoughts on it.

    Anyway… “Rush”. Which might be one of those very good movies that I never see, because I really have no interest in the subject matter. That might be a pity, but my money is my own and I only have so much of it to spend. I’m almost tempted to see it just because of Vern’s description of Niki Bruhl’s character. Self-aware assholes can be pretty fascinating to go on a journey with (the other example I’d think of is Michael Fassbender’s character in “Shame”, a character who’s almost completely unlikeable but whose story I found intensely compelling). Maybe if it comes on TV soon.

  13. my sources tell me that this is a modern, non-European movie that actually has some nudity, well done Opie!

  14. One Guy from Andromeda

    February 4th, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    It’s a European movie – American director, but a British production and crew mostly (at least the writer said so in an interview).
    I was very surprised at how good this one was. I usually can’t stand Ron Howard movies and i thought The Queen and especially Frost/Nixon were very weak, but Rush was a great time at the movies. Not necessary to know anything about car racing and still suspenseful and exciting. Acting brilliant all around (Brühl really _becomes_ that guy, impressive).
    Stylish. Never boring. Big surprise for me.

  15. Well, you’ve made me want to see a Ron Howard film about Formula One racing. Hope you’re pleased with yourself, asshole.

  16. True, but not necesseraly funny, story; I went to see THE WORLD’S END (best Movie I saw last year) with my son. And because of a miss print in the papers we came two hours early. But instead of having to come back later the cool guys at the cinema said we could watch a movie for free in the meantime. It was RUSH. A movie I would never have seen otherwise. It’s a good movie, especially if you’re an old fart like me and remember the real story from TV in the 70’s. And it takes a lot of skill to film Formula 1 in an entertaining way, because that shit is boooring.

  17. Hunt and Lauda were in fact good friends for quite a while before either of them started F1, and continued to be right up until Hunt’s fatal heart attack in the mid-90s. The film clearly embellishes the initial hostility, they were after all completely opposite personalities and this lends itself to drama. Whilst they were certainly rivals on the track, and each was quite jealous of many aspects of the other’s personality, they had huge respect for one another.

    When Hunt died I believe Lauda called him “an honest to God buddy” or something like that.

  18. Bruhl is also a hidden highlight of the Two days in Paris/New York series, with a recurring bit part as an eco terrorist/activist

  19. Great, underrated movie – it’s too bad this bombed at the box office and got shut out of the Oscars. It looks great, it’s well-acted, it’s exciting and has big Hollywood style but also has an unconventional structure and climax. Bruhl and Hemsworth are great, and their casting is genius – having Hunt played by the golden god we know from the big comic book movies and Lauda played by a character actor we sorta recognize is just the way it had to be – this movie wouldn’t have worked half as well with two unknowns or two big stars.

    The only downside is i hate the title. Not only because the Jennifer Jason Leigh/Jason Patric movie is still vaguely fresh, but also b/c “Rush” is just so generic and doesn’t really have anything to do with the story. It’s too bad “Driven” was already taken as that (or “Drive”) would have worked alot better. (Or “Ron Howard’s Rush”, as people joked)

  20. On one hand, Ron Howard totally took this rivalry as a chance for some Nerds Vs. Jock bullshit between Hunt and Lauda. It’s not smart, and it ain’t subtle.

    On another, it’s definitely a great-looking, well-acted film. I’m torn.

  21. Neal – this bombed? I’m surprised, but on the other hand, they put TWO trailers for it before every movie for about two months before it actually came out. I kinda felt like I’d already seen the thing ten times over before it was even released.

    Also Ron Howard made an appearance in which he came off as a complete douchebag. (“Here’s the trailer to get you excited!” Fuck off.) Didn’t help, I think.

  22. The Original Paul

    February 6th, 2014 at 6:35 am

    (Changing my name back now that we have two Pauls again.)

    Anyway I’m gonna continue on that theme… One reason I suspect I often have differing opinions to the mass market is because I see so many films. How many times do you reckon most people go to the movies in a year? Six or seven? Fourteen or fifteen if they’re the kind who goes to see a film once or twice a month?

    Last year, I saw thirty-four films at the cinema. And that’s low for me. (The year before that I saw sixty-eight, sometimes at the rate of three a WEEK.) Honestly if last year hadn’t been such an awful year for film in general, I would’ve seen many more, but… well… it was. All the great films you Americans were raving about? We didn’t get them over here in the UK, at all. (For example, I’ll be lucky if they even release “Man of Tai Chi” on Region 2 DVD, the way last year went. Hopefully it’s on Netflix or something, although even that seems to have cut its catalogue so much recently, I’m having trouble finding anything on it that’s not completely mainstream.) We did get two-month runs of “Movie 43” and “Now You See Me” though, as well I believe as films like “The Smurfs 2”, “Die Hard 5”, “The Hangover 3” and “Planes” that I avoided because a majority of voices said they were terrible.

    Anyway, my point – not the one about 2013 being a shitty year for movies, my other point – is that they obviously wanted “Rush” to be in the minds of people who go to the cinema a lot less often than I do. So they promoted the crap out of it for the benefit of the people who only go to the cinema as an occasional treat. Unfortunately that meant that for pretty much an entire two months I was seeing nothing but “Rush” trailers, posters and interviews, every time I went to the cinema. If I’d have ever been interested in that film in the first place, the sheer marketing overload would’ve actually put me off it.

    As to why it didn’t do well… I don’t know. I thought the trailers gave away the entire plot of the film, which I gather from Vern’s review is exactly right; there’s also the Ron Howard factor. (Seriously, don’t have the director of a movie appear in a trailer and have him basically spout stuff meaning “This is the film you’ve been waiting for!” No, the film I’ve been waiting for I’m STILL waiting for because you insist on marketing your stupid race movie to me twice in one screening, you cock.) Other than that, I didn’t think the trailers were particularly bad – they seemed to do a pretty good job of “selling” the film although, again, they probably gave too much of the plot away. I would think that if you didn’t go to the cinema enough to suffer the exessive marketing, you’d at least be interested in this. So what happened?

  23. Does anyone watch the tv show AMERICAN DAD? In December they had an episode where the teenage son disparaged his friend’s love of indie movies while they were building statues of Ron Howard out of Legos to enter some contest. They end up going on this coming of age road trip and it’s all done in the style of an indie movie. Sometimes Seth MacFarlane’s shows are just idiotic and sometimes they’re brilliant. I thought this one was hilarious.

  24. I do on occasion and from what I’ve seen AMERICAN DAD is almost always brilliant, and probably has more of him in it than FAMILY GUY.

  25. Rush actually made a pretty good $90 million worldwide. It’s just that in America, no one cares about Formula One racing, and Thor didn’t have his hammer.

  26. Had zero intention of seeing this but I’ll give it a go soon. Not a fan of most of Howards films. I avoided the DaVinci ones based on Tom Hanks’ mullet in the first one, and because the books were sooo popular amongst peak hour public transport commuters. If only there were more copies of SEAGALOGY and YIPPEE-KI-YAY on the news-stand.

    My favourite Howard joint is RANSOM. Mad Mel was in his prime. He and Rene Russo continued their romance between LETHAL WEAPON films. And Nick Nolte’s son was real good as the kid. Gotta give Howard credit for being good with his actors.

  27. My favorite is APOLLO 13 but I also love THE PAPER and PARENTHOOD. Haven’t seen it but I want to. My interest in this is mostly in Hans Zimmer’s score, which I’ve heard described as very rock and roll which is something I like in film scores.

  28. PARENTHOOD is one of those films that’s permanently ingrained in my movie brain. I remember being impressed by a young Joaquin (Leaf) Phoenix as a moody kid.

  29. I saw it at a pretty early age, and I thought for the longest time that that character was being played by a very butch or tomboy-ish girl.

  30. onthewall — well, not a completely unwarranted mistake…

  31. Thank you for seeing it too. I think the one that takes the cake in the film is Jason Robards. His monologue to Steve Martin’s character during the little league practice is more and more timely as I get older and how I see my parents, getting closer to their golden years. Sad stuff.

  32. PARENTHOOD is fantastic. So poignant and hilarious. That’s how you do heartwarming comedy. Keanu has a great speech about fathers too. I miss Rick Moranis.

    I hear the TV show is good too but I never watched past the pilot. Seemed too on the nose, making the kid have Aspergers now and doing the mixed race child again,but the cancer stuff is new.

  33. Oh wow, I remember that OFCS thing… it was back in the USENET days, no? Wasn’t the consensus that it was kind of like being excluded from a haughty old ladies’ tea party that you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed anyway? (And some of the partygoers were taking money from the tea companies to promote their favorite brands of tea?) It WAS unjust that they kept you out, almost entirely on a tone argument, but fuck ’em. Pride only hurts, it never helps.

    As for this, I really wanted to see it but was working crazy hours at the time and never got around to it. Will have to add it to the list.

    By the way Vern, might be time to check out Synecdoche, New York if you get the chance…

  34. Fred: I’ve seen a bit more of the TV show and can confirm it’s quality. A good ensemble cast from Peter Krause to Mrs. McClane. I was a bit more into the 2nd and 3rd seasons but don’t follow it as much now that I’ve become a mostly complete cable snob.

    It might interest you Fred that Rick is kind of back in the spotlight now. He put out an album and did a Nerdist podcast sometime last year.

  35. M. Casey: I did review it a while back. http://www.outlawvern.com/2009/08/29/synechdoche-new-york/ Definitely a great movie that needs more viewings.

  36. Thanks bud. And not only did I read it at some point, I also commented. :)

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