NEED FOR SPEED: Based on a real-life rivalry, Formula 1 racers James Hunt (left, Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) compete for the top spot.
City Paper grade: B
As erroneous as it sounds, the most subtle movie Ron Howard has made in years involves Formula 1 cars pulling up pavement at triple-digit speeds. Taking the real-life rivalry of ’70s-era racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda and distilling it to its basest motivations, Rush is the rare sports-oriented feature that’s actually about sport, exploring the headstrong nature of masculine competition with nary a kneel at the altar of believe-in-yourself schmaltz.
A long-haired Brit quick both on and off the track, Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a playboy of Europe’s lower-echelon race leagues. Anticipating domination once he reaches the top-tier F1 series, Hunt’s immediately knocked back by upstart Lauda (Daniel Brühl), an antisocial outsider who has ignored his family’s urges to take on a sane career. They’re both fast, they’re both arrogant and they both crave the checkered flag. Cue exhilarating death-trap pissing contest.
The role of the charismatic but self-destructive Hunt seems custom-sewn for Hemsworth, who hasn’t had many opportunities beyond Thor to prove that he can charm sans cape. But it doesn’t feature the same opportunities afforded to Brühl, best-known to American audiences as cinephilic Nazi sniper Fredrick Zoller in Inglourious Basterds. Motivated by a deep inferiority that seems to predate his entry into a dangerous profession, Lauda is established as the more complex of the two, and Brühl doesn’t waste this advantage.
Howard sets up Hunt and Lauda’s connection with their vehicles via repetition and proximity, wedging us into pit crews and strapping us into driver’s seats in lieu of wider, more fashionable looks at the race as recreation. His man-versus-man micro-focus does have its casualties — Hunt and Lauda’s wives (Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara), given nothing to do, non-respond accordingly — but the drivers’ relationship with each other, so uncomplicated in its volatility, is dynamic enough to make up for it.
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