If there’s one thing that the usual glut of end of the year prestige films creates, it’s a vacuum that sucks out quality films released earlier in the year. To wit, the racing drama Rush, which is not only one of the best movies of 2013, but it’s easily one of the finest of Ron Howard’s career. What’s so great about a racing film? Maybe it depends on how you define sport, and whether or not driving a car in a circle 74 times counts as a sport, but what Rush is really about is rivalry, and how sometimes it takes a great competitor to help us find the greatness in ourselves.
All the elements come together in Rush thanks to Howard’s impeccable skill and experience as a filmmaker, and two great central performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. No matter how you feel about car racing, this film is one heck of a ride.
What’s fascinating about Rush is that Howard, a child of Hollywood if there ever was one, went completely non-Hollywood to make the film. Without a big studio, and with very little in the way of star power (save for Hemswroth), Rush is realized very well with tremendous immediacy and intensity without relying too heavily on a lot of protracted racing scenes. The real fireworks are between Hemsworth’s Hunt and Brühl’s Lauda, who, like all great rivals, were two sides of the same coin, with Hunt’s raw talent and instincts pitted against Lauda’s knowledge and calculation. Hemsworth mixes charisma and arrogance well as Hunt, and Brühl makes you feel empathy for Lauda’s drive even in the midst of his coldness.
The revelation of Rush though is Howard. Even though he’s made over 20 films, there’s something fresh about this one, something stripped down and more focused than some of the director’s other recent efforts. Maybe that’s because Rush was made for the price of about four or five Da Vinci Codes, or maybe it’s because there’s a particularly good synthesis between Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan, who penned the director’s last great film, Frost/Nixon.
Despite the best efforts of a lot of filmmakers, car racing has always been a difficult subject matter to convey on film, but Howard captures it for all its speed, ferocity and intensity on a budget, with pure visual finesse. Really though, the reason Howard’s successful is because the more internal race between the main characters matters more than the actual one on the track.