By Muhammad Muzammal Columnist
”Rush” insightfully stares into the relentless struggle between two talented race car drivers who become obsessed with defeating each other.
It is one of Ron Howard’s most personal films. He goes back to his directorial roots of “Grand Theft Auto” (1977) and forces us to live in a world of racetracks, to feel the exhilaration of car racing.
The film is technically a sports movie, but that is a cruel generalization. “Rush” examines two men who combat and destroy one another, not because they want to win, but because they wish the other to lose. It is a fascinating relationship that lays a heavy burden on the audience to endure the protagonists’ pain.
The two protagonists are real-life Formula One drivers, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). “Rush” chronicles Lauda and Hunt’s lives, mainly through the 1976 racing season.
There are notable differences between the two: Lauda is a skilled technician and is more mature than Hunt, who is a party animal and a weaker driver.
After an embarrassing loss to Lauda, Hunt intently focuses on his crucial driving flaws, transitioning into a better driver and a fierce competitor.
He constantly thinks and dreams about racing Lauda to strip him of all his glory. Lauda is world champion for most of the season, but he secretly fears Hunt, going as far as filing a complaint to Formula One to re-examine James’s vehicle. He will cross any boundaries to disqualify the one man that he knows can beat him.
Brühl’s performance as the Austrian driver is full of complex layers. He plays Lauda as an arrogant egomaniac who hated the car-racing lifestyle but cherished the sport.
Then everything changes when Lauda first races Hunt in a Formula Three race and disappointingly loses.
From there on, he works hard to reason with a man who has no rationality. Hemsworth’s character is an immature fool, yet Lauda continues, racing and fighting until he can no longer drive. Like Hunt, Lauda knows there isn’t anything at which he is better than car racing. It is his will to live and his purpose to exist.
“Rush” shows that purpose can become tarnished, transforming into a mere will to beat another individual. After grueling races and several unfortunate traumas, each man still lives on to damage the other.
“Rush” perfectly executes the idea of “form over content.” It has a hectic and explosive tone, matching the mood of a car race – unnerving, yet exciting.
The film also features a memorable soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, who couples his dramatic violins with a cool and light touch of rock music.
There is a wealth of colorful cinematography, all due to Anthony Dod Mantle, a surefire Oscar nominee.
The film isn’t without its impressive versatile writing, either, showing off a brilliant feat by writer Peter Morgan. Morgan organizes the film as an exhibition of clashing, unstable personalities.
At the end, Ron Howard’s direction is what stands out as the most impressive aspect of the film.
Notice how Howard’s camera always zooms into the faces of each character. It invites us to observe their faces and read their expressions.
Howard also places two symbolic scenes that serve as a bridge between Lauda and Hunt’s feelings.
Consider the shot where we see a record spinning like a circular racetrack in Hunt’s house, after he has just lost to Lauda. He will now argue with his wife, Suzy (a British Olivia Wilde). Many scenes later, there is a shot of Lauda, staring into the window as he speaks to his wife, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), on their honeymoon. To his left is Marlene, but to his lower right is a fire that burns brightly.
What do these two scenes have in common?
Both these men have placed their hatred for each other above the love they have for the ones who love them. They know it is wrong and inexplicable, yet they can’t fight it.
It is a virus, like an uncontrollable obsession, like a poisonous ‘rush.’