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Zimbio Review - Truly Fast & Furious, 'Rush' Puts Other Racing Movies to Shame

(L-R) Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl in Rush. (Universal)Long story short: Rush features dazzling stunt work but it's the human story behind the drivers that makes it worth seeing.

Rush will remind you of: Senna, Days of Thunder, Rocky, L.A. Confidential, Midnight Run

Review: Ron Howard's penchant for straightforward narrative and beautiful action sequences lends itself perfectly to his latest film, Rush. It's the combustible tale of the great rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s. Both men are well-developed as individuals but it was their relationship that would change each of their lives and the sport they loved. Rush carefully intertwines each man's personal with his professional life. Howard isn't subtle with the movie's themes but it doesn't ruin one of the best racing films ever made.

After all the horrendous Fast and Furious movies, it's heartening to know Universal also cares about the writing and characters in their action films and not just brainless car chases. Rush may have been made for a third of the budget of Fast 5, but the driving sequences have more of the grit and gravel of real pavement (not to mention real consequences for the drivers).

The best part of Rush, and the reason to see it, is the relationship between Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Hunt is the dashing English playboy. Before the first race we see him in, he gargles with champagne and takes a hit off a joint. Afterwards, he seduces a nurse in the hospital. Lauda is the opposite. A mechanical genius, he's also bucktoothed and ornery (the term "asshole" is thrown around liberally). He's the Larry Bird to Hunt's Magic Johnson. They're polar opposites linked by a common thread: Both can drive.

Hemsworth may be the face you see on all the advertising for Rush, but this is really Daniel Brühl's film. We get to know Hunt as the film opens, but the film quickly transitions to adhere us to Lauda. His story is the more dramatic of the two. Both drivers work their way onto the Formula One circuit after proving their worth on the lower Formula Two tracks. Hunt catches Lauda's attention early in their careers after Hunt beats him despite almost killing him at the same time. They exchange pleasantries after the race, securing their rivalry, and marking each one—Hunt as the flashy risk-taker and Lauda as the methodical, calculating thinker.

Brühl is fantastic as Lauda. This is an actor poised to become one of the great talents of his generation and Rush is one of three films this year (A Most Wanted Man, The Fifth Estate) that should earn him considerable acclaim. He does a subtly brilliant thing in Rush: He endears us to a wholly unlikable man. As written, Lauda is brash, rude, and arrogant, but Brühl gives him a humanity that belies all his gruesome qualities. The natural inclination is for the fans to root for the good-looking, personable Hunt so it's to Brühl's credit he makes the uncharismatic Lauda so easy to cheer on.

Howard's camera comes alive during the race scenes. He uses extreme close-ups during intense action and no shot stays on screen for more than a few seconds. The style is the perfect complement to the speed of Formula One. Much of the film happens on the racetrack so the marriage of what's onscreen and how it's depicted is hugely important.

The director also doesn't shy away from the moment that would change both drivers' lives forever. With Hunt leading the charge, the field opts to race the German Grand Prix in 1976 despite Lauda's concerns the track is unsafe. During the second lap, Lauda's Ferrari hits an embankment and bursts into flames, trapping the driver inside. He survives, but his absence allows Hunt to become points leader, fueling Lauda's will to return while lying in the hospital.

Even though Howard feels the need to articulate what's already onscreen (namely that each man motivates the other), the dialogue doesn't come off hammy or forced. Peter Morgan's screenplay features some great shop talk and track vocabulary. "Just give me the drive!" But the performances truly carry the picture. Hemsworth is fearless and admirable as the cocky Hunt and Brühl simply is Niki Lauda, from look to accent.

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