Film Review: Rush

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Plot: Based on the true story of Formula One racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), focusing on their intense rivalry in the late 1970’s.

The way I feel about Rush is the way I feel about Ron Howard’s entire directing career: hit or miss. The first act of this film is absolutely atrocious…but then it got better. And by the time you reach the third act, it’s actually pretty damn good. But let’s rip the band-aid off first and talk about that first act…

Had I not been reviewing this film, I would have contemplated walking out. I loathe the tone that is set up in the first thirty minutes. It’s schmaltzy, everyone is unlikable, the voiceovers are painfully over the top, as are the performances. Daniel Bruhl was especially bad as Niki Lauda. I get the character is supposed to be unlikable, but if he’s one of your protagonists, I have to get on board with him somewhat, and I just flat out hated this guy. James Hunt was no picnic either, but for different reasons. Hemsworth was just as bad too, really hamming it up. I couldn’t believe this was the same guy I loved so much in Thor.

The other big problem in this first act is they barely focus on the actual racing and are to busy setting up love interests for each character. This couldn’t be any more less interesting. There’s a sequence between Lauda and his wife (Alexandra Maria Lara) to be that is just endless.

Now once the film finally settles in and begins to focus on actual racing and rivalries, I started to dig it. Everything about the movie gets better — Ron Howard’s direction, the tone was more serious, but most important of all, the performances were suddenly top notch. The rivalry between Hunt and Lauda takes center stage, and I was enthralled the whole way through. What works best about their conflict is how polar opposite they are. Lauda is the hardworking stick in the mud, while Hunt is the habitual partier. What I loved most about their rivalry though is the respect each racer slowly gains for one another. There’s one scene in particular where Hunt defends Lauda’s honor without him even knowing it that was wholly satisfying to watch.

Hemsworth and Bruhl really take command of these characters, but especially Bruhl. He goes from a completely hateable character to someone who you still don’t like, but respect wholeheartedly. It’s bizarre how bad Bruhl is in the first act, but by the end of the film he turns in a potential Oscar-level performance.

Aside from Hemsworth and Bruhl, the other reason to see Rush are the racing scenes. And trust me, you don’t have to like racing to appreciate this. I’d rather watch curling than car racing, but I loved these sequences. I tip my cap to Howard, because they are as loud and intense as you can possibly imagine, and are shot perfectly. The last race in particular is absolutely gut-wrenching in a way you don’t expect.

One of the other problems with Rush though is when it’s not focused on racing or the rivalry, there isn’t much there. The two love interests played by Alexandra Maria Lara and Olivia Wilde are fine, but nothing special. The film has no other interesting supporting characters whatsoever. It’s just Hemsworth and Bruhl.

While I wouldn’t “rush” out to see this movie (see what I did there?), I’d definitely go check it out. Just know you’ll have to suffer through thirty minutes of crap. While wildly inconsistent, the main rivalry really does shine. I especially like Lauda and Hunt’s final exchange to end the film. Rush – solid where it counts, but could have been better.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.