With sports films and Ron Howard films struggling as of late it would seem that a sports film directed by Ron Howard would be a very bad idea. There really haven’t been any good sports films outside of Moneyball and 42 in recent years while Ron Howard’s latest two films have been such critically derided films as The Dilemma and Angels & Demons. Yet Rush (the racing film directed by Howard and released into theaters last month) is quite an entertaining film. Gorgeously filmed and well acted throughout there is not much to complain about with Rush.
Rush is the real-life story of the 1976 Formula One season as rivals James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) race for the championship. The film is directed by Ron Howard (with what is easily his best directorial effort since Cinderella Man) and is written by Peter Morgan (who also worked on Frost/Nixon with Howard).
One of the more common complaints against Ron Howard as a director is that he has a bland style. While that can be true in some of his lesser films, this is the man who directed Apollo 13 and made the dark yet trippy A Beautiful Mind. His direction on this film fortunately falls much more in line with the latter examples. His direction of the racing scenes are visually striking and intense while he also (with the help of a talented crew of costume designers) makes the 1970s setting work well in the quieter scenes. It also helps that Howard received a script from Peter Morgan that allows him to direct the performances in such a fashion that they end up dictating the plot rather than the writing. That brings up my only complaint in the film. Morgan’s ability to let the performances and direction speak for themselves makes the film seem much more sophisticated so when the script spells out some important character development that the audience could have figured out for themselves in the final scene, it seems like a betrayal of what has come before. Ultimately, though it’s one quibble in an otherwise strong film.
As for the performances, they are equally as good as Howard’s direction. Chris Hemsworth doesn’t veer to far away from his normal shtick, but he is well casted in a role that needed his typical schtick in order to make an otherwise unpleasant character likeable. Speaking of unlikeable characters, Daniel Bruhl easily plays the most unlikable one in the entire film. Yet through Bruhl’s performance, Niki Lauda ends up becoming the most fascinating character in the film. The rest of the supporting cast is mostly gone to waste (such as Olivia Wilde in a poorly-written role and Natalie Dormer being charming in a role that amounts to little more than a cameo), but Alexandra Maria Lara is able to stand out from the crowd as the love interest for Niki Lauda.
Featuring some sturdy direction and two strong performances, Rush is a good start for the fall movie season.