SCREEN PASS: “Rush” races past typical sports movie traps

October 3rd, 2013 | by Shad Powers | Comments

Niki Lauda, James HuntIt’s time for another Screen Pass, our occasional series of reviews of movies that have a sports angle to them.

Full disclosure: When I entered the theater I knew that the Ron Howard auto racing movie “Rush” was about Formula One racing during its heyday of the 1970s, but I didn’t know it was a true story.

It’s a good thing that it all really did happen, because if it hadn’t, this movie would have drawn eye-rolls in a there’s-no-way-all-of-those-things-could-have-happened type of way.

It portrays the two-man battle for the 1976 Formula One championship between British playboy James Hunt (played by “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian fuddy-duddy Niki Lauda (played by rising star Daniel Brühl, most notably of “Inglourious Basterds”). Both guys are fast. One guy is furious.

With any sports movie I always worry it’s going to follow the tired format of good guy vs. bad guy, good guy wins in dramatic fashion, bad guy and good guy share a mutual respect in the end, blah, blah, blah. We liked it the first time we saw it in “The Karate Kid” and we’ve been getting increasingly bored by it ever since.

But Howard does a nice job of avoiding that trap. Neither the hard-partying fun guy, nor the bookish homebody are heroes. Both have problems, both have successes. You’re not in a position to root for either guy, just simply sit in the passenger seat for the remarkable ride (sorry about using racing terminology, kind of hacky I know) that the 1976 title chase produced. If you are going to see this movie and you aren’t familiar with the outcome, I would suggest not googling it. Go in blind, I think you’ll enjoy it more.

The racing action scenes are top drawer. Howard creates just the right tense, pulse-pounding atmosphere. The speed. The noise. The risk. The claustrophobia of those tiny cars. It all comes through.

What makes the movie work is that Howard smartly didn’t spend too much time delving into the back stories of the two racers. In some movies, you need that, so you care when one of the stars wins or loses or is hurt or gets divorced. But in this movie, again, it’s not about that. By going light on the exposition, Howard keeps the movie right in the fast lane (sorry again) where it belongs. We’re racing. We’re partying. We’re racing again. We’re fighting. We’re racing. The thread of the narrative never gets bogged down.

It comes to an end. Somebody wins, somebody loses, and as we head toward the credits we get some stock footage of the two actual racers. I always appreciate that when a movie is based on real people. It’s always interesting to see just how close the actors looked to the men they were portraying, and it reinforces again that this actually happened. No matter how unbelievable it seems, you have to believe it.

This movie is easy to recommend to anyone, but a full-blown must-see to a racing fan.

Whew, I got through the whole review without saying the action shifted into high gear. It wasn’t easy but I did it.

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