Ron Howard has (thankfully) come a long way since Happy Days. Since famously portraying the ginger-haired, all-American teenager Richie Cunningham in the favourite sitcom of everyone’s parents, Howard has become an acclaimed film and television icon, in front of and behind the camera. Directing everything from Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind to The Da Vinci Code and The Grinch; helming the 1990 favourite Parenthood and its subsequent TV series; and producing/narrating my favourite show and arguably the best TV comedy of all time Arrested Development, the Ron Howard filmography is a diverse force to be reckoned with. Oh, and he made an inexplicable appearance in the music video for Jamie Foxx’s Blame It (On the Alcohol). Good on him.
His latest directorial effort (his first since 2011’s so-so The Dilemma) is Rush, a super charged Formula 1 biopic based on the true story of '70s racing drivers and bitter rivals James Hunt (Thor – I mean, Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauder (Daniel Bruhl). As a complete novice when it comes to anything F1 (despite working at the Melbourne Grand Prix last year – whoops) and the story being set way before my time, I knew nothing about what would eventuate in the 1976 season. But no matter – this is a riveting, fast-paced, thought-provoking film that will excite anyone, regardless of their petrol-head affiliations.
Hemsworth is convincing as the instinctive, cheeky playboy James (how he’s managed to score so many Hollywood gigs post-Home and Away is beyond me). He’s charismatic, charming and able to bring ladies to their knees with a flick of his wavy blonde hair, but it’s his struggles with the bottle and his crippling mentality that showcases Hemsworth’s true acting talents.
Bruhl’s interpretation of the serious, methodical and socially inept Lauder steals the show here, and his polarising personality will leave you feeling both frustrated and sympathetic towards him. The journey he goes on is excruciating (that lung vacuum is still giving me shivers) and his fierce determination to beat his rival is thrilling to witness. The two leads are polar opposites in almost every facet – handsome versus ugly, driving on instinct rather than mathematical probability – and sets up their long-winded battle, so good it can’t possibly have been made up. Their acceptance of themselves and each other, and their final moments together on screen are bittersweet and moving.
Howard has done a great job of recreating the blistering races on screen. Filmed from dozens of dynamic angles and putting the viewer right into the driver’s seat, the set pieces are exhilarating and action-packed, without feeling over-stylised or bloated for the appeal to rev-heads. The sense of formidable danger and bravery versus stupidity is evident, especially in the rain-soaked races, and forces you to understand F1 as more of a game of survival than sport.
The '70s style is totally groovy (yes, groovy) and the dialogue not too sappy or explicit. The women in the film though hardly get a look-in – Niki’s long-suffering wife Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) is practically silent for the second half, and James’ string of women only go surface deep, with Olivia Wilde’s brief appearances as his short-lived wife Suzy Miller really only there to show how much of a womanising douche James could be.
Regardless, Rush really is as the title suggests – an adrenaline rush of a sports biopic. It’s exciting, fascinating and appealing for all audiences, not just F1 nuts. The bitter rivalry between enigmatic Hunt and iconic Lauder is storytelling at its finest, and should long be considered one of Ron Howard’s best works. Highly recommended.