As a director, Ron Howard has always described himself as a journeyman who put the story first. He’s never embraced a particular visual style, which means he can make something great, or something less than, but it’s always going to be determined by the material and the performers. 2013’s Rush is one of his better films, though it didn’t catch on domestically. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl star as ultra-competitive Formula One race car drivers who approach the sport differently, but eventually come to respect each other. My review of the Blu-ray follows after the jump.
James Hunt (Hemsworth) thinks of himself as a golden god. Coming up from smaller races, he’s got the confidence and a lack of fear that makes him a master of the track. He also is a devil with the ladies and eventually marries an actress, Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). While Niki Lauda (Brühl) is a rich kid who gives up on his family inheritance to pursue the sport. He sees that improvements can be made on the cars he drives, and feels that technical mastery is more important than instinct. Both eventually make it into the big leagues, and spend much of their time either winning or losing to the other. But as must happen in a film about car racing, eventually Lauda has a terrible crash that leaves him disfigured. But that won’t stop him from racing, and he gets an ally in his quest to return.
Though narratively there’s not all that much going on in Rush, it does offer portraits of two totally different men who share the same drive and spirit. These are men who are not afraid of death and who want to win at all costs. Over the course of the film, the film allows you to see how they can both be great and terrible, you get to experience their points of view on the subject of racing, and you get to see how a hard but earned friendship is achieved from them.
As such, it’s a film that’s all about the performances. Hemsworth can rest easily on his charm and Thor-esque presence, but this is the first film in his meteoric rise to stardom that suggests he could also be a great actor, or at least a great actor-star. This role falls into similar terrain of his superhero movies as he’s playing a cocky but charming winner, but he’s great at it. But it turns out that Daniel Brühl is the sneaky star of the film. The actor, who made a breakthrough stateside in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, manages to embrace the fact that his character is superficially annoying because he thinks he’s always right, and the film makes the contest between the two almost lopsided in empathy, but as the film goes on you see that he thinks he’s right most of the time because he is right, which gives him a certain nobility.
It’s a two person show, and the women in the film take a backseat (though one senses that maybe Olivia Wilde’s part was beefed up a little bit), though the film embraces its late sixties/seventies setting and thought process, which means there’s more nudity than most mainstream films these days. Perhaps because Ron Howard’s already won an Oscar, or perhaps because the film underperformed, Rush was ignored by the Academy, but it’s a contender for one of the best films of 2013, and is now a little underrated. That may be the negative side to being a journeyman, when you make so many movies of different tones and interests, you don’t have the sort of auteur support that someone like Martin Scorsese gets.
Universal’s Blu-ray comes in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. It’s a gorgeous transfer, and the set also comes with a DVD and digital copy. As for supplements there are ten deleted scenes (11 min.) that amount mostly to trims to get the film closer to a two hour length, and it’s followed by a six part making of (32 min.), which is pretty dullish, and walks through things in the expected “so and so got hired and was great to work with” way. Oh well. Better is “The Real Story of Rush” (19 min.) a three part piece on the Lauda/Hunt rivalry.