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Sunday, 22 September 2013

This One Glides Sublimely Over the Chicane

Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Peter Morgan

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino

Music: Hans Zimmer
Running time122 minutes

1976. It was an age before strict safety standards, press room decorum and radio transmissions with the team. It was the era of the monstrous V-12 engines, uncountable overtakes, flimsy unstable cars, a Ferrari pit crew in striking yellow, and a nightlife that would make Hugh Hefner jealous. It was also the year that will go down as the most exhilarating, the most unpredictable and the most dramatic of all Formula One seasons, thanks to the legendary rivalry between Brit James Hunt and the Austrian Niki Lauda. And Ron Howard’s makes it all come alive in the sleek, finely crafted sports drama Rush.

Without spilling too much beans, the 1976 F1 season is ingrained in popular motorsport folklore for the bitter, fierce and tumultuous feud between Hunt and Lauda – both on and off the track; and it also saw one of the most amazing comebacks in the history of competitive sports. Going into the German Grand Prix at the then notorious Nürburgring circuit, Lauda, driving a Ferrari, had had a clear advantage over Hunt, who had been having a disastrous season up till then courtesy a very unreliable McLaren. Driving in precarious weather, in a race that would later go on to define his career, Lauda crashed his car and suffered burns that threatened to end his racing career, if not his life. His absence from the track helped Hunt gain in on invaluable points and bridge the gap in the Championship Standings. About a month later, however, against the advice of all his doctors, the phoenix of Lauda – quite literally – rose from the ashes to compete in the last four races of the season amidst universal shock and admiration and tremendous amount of pain.

But what makes this rivalry one for the ages isn’t just the battles in their respective cars, but the polar opposite personalities of the two men. Hunt – British wit notwithstanding – was the quintessential F1 playboy, living each day as if it were his last, with a hedonic lifestyle involving a lot of women (including a short-lived marriage), drugs and alcohol, and always drove an aggressive passionate and often reckless race. Lauda on the other hand was a level-headed tactician, an Alain Prost of that age.

And does Ron Howard capture all this in a movie spanning less than two hours? Bloody hell, he does!

After mediocre outings like The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, Howard shows the skill seen in earlier films such as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. The race sequences are adrenaline-filled, edge-of-the-seat affairs and yet keep you invested in the characters in a way no no-brainer action flick can do. You get more than a glimpse into the steely, stolid mind as the face disappears behind the visor as the drivers put on their helmets. Never once getting histrionic, there is enough drama to differentiate it from an insipid made-for-TV biopic, and I for one was engrossed as if it were all a real race being played out live before me. More importantly, the film manages to capture the evanescent nature of the whole sport; how it’s all so uncertain; how so much of it depends on luck. 

Peter Morgan (of The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and Frost/Nixon fame) crafts a screenplay that is engaging and well-paced, and never once does the movie seem prosaic or uninspired. The Hans Zimmer score, unsurprisingly, does not disappoint. The two leads cap off fine performances, with Chris Hemsworth stepping out of the pretty hammer wielding god image and effortlessly becoming the roguish, witty and likeable – and sometimes disturbed – Hunt, complete with a surprisingly good British accent (Hemsworth is Australian) and a mischievous twinkle in the eye to go along. The German actor Daniel Brühl (you might remember him as the German war-hero turned film star Frederik Zoller from Inglourious Basterds) is perfect foil as Lauda, with the characteristic level-headed obstinacy and no-nonsense speech that epitomizes the Austrian driver. The most memorable moments of the film are those where both actors share the screen and exchange nasty pleasantries.

Lauda (angrily, after their first race against each in Formula 3): Hey, what’s your name?
Hunt: It’s James Hunt. It rhymes with c***. And that’s what you are.

As a movie on Formula 1, Rush gets almost as good as the sublime Asif Kapadia documentary Senna. The vintage cars, the driver’s eye view of race sequences as the cars whiz past chicanes, and the glimpses into the lives of two antitheses of racers – both united in their drive to win, are all welded masterfully to present a smasher of a film. All in all, Rush is a well-made biographical action-drama, which ranks with The Damned United and even Chariots of Fire as far as sport dramas go, which never gets cloy or pretentious (like Remember the Titans), rusty, dry or brainless, and has more than enough poignancy, soul and mind, amalgamated with the right amount dry humour, to stay with you for quite some time.

Rush is worth every rupee and even more.

Rating: 8.5/10

PS. If any of you snicker at Niki Lauda's surname (as did many in the theater I went to), I curse that your mind doesn't mature beyond where it is right now.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Niki Lauda did act like a dick :P