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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Rush

Directed by: Ron Howard

Produced by: Ron Howard
Brian Grazer
Andrew Eaton
Eric Fellner
Brian Oliver
Guy East
Nigel Sinclair
Tobin Armbrust
Tim Bevan
Tyler Thompson
Todd Hallowell

Screenplay by: Peter Morgan

Starring: Chris Hemsworth
Daniel Bruhl
Olivia Wilde
Alexandra Maria Lara

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Cinematography by: Anthony Dod Mantle

Editing by: Daniel P. Hanley
Mike Hill

Studio(s): Exclusive Media
Relativity Media
Revolution Films
Working Title Films
Imagine Entertainment
Cross Creek Pictures

Distributed by: Exclusive Media
Universal Pictures (United States)
StudioCanal (United Kingdom)
Pathe Productions (France)

Release date(s): September 13, 2013 (United Kingdom)
September 20, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 122 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Language(s): English

Production budget: $38 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $70, 095, 674

Okay there, for reasons which I will get into during the course of the review, I had to take some time to contemplate my opines there, but in that contemplation (and assisting the process), I managed to see two other movies, Sanitarium and A Belfast Story, and in case you don't know already, I've got plenty more on the back burner, especially with Halloween and Oscar season being round the corner (a lot of horror movies being looked at this month). 

So with that being said and a little bit of fuel, courtesy of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the movie up for review today is Rush, the latest film from Ron Howard, depicting primarily the 1976 Formula One season rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). I've always thought Ron Howard an underrated filmmaker, for despite his work as a young actor in the sixties and seventies as Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham (and being subject of numerous ginger jokes courtesy of South Park. Incidentally, CopperCab's a fool), he's a fine director, not without the odd pitfall, but who has made great movies such as Apollo 13, Ransom, A Beautiful Mind (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director) and Frost/Nixon. Rush reunites him with the latter's screenwriter, Peter Morgan, who has many times before proven himself adept at writing an engaging screenplay involving real-life figures. Also, this is the second major theatrical release in the past few years following on from Asif Kapadia's archival-based masterful Senna, so, with the benchmark for F1-movies being set by that picture, Rush has some big shoes to fill. Brief synopsis, Hunt and Lauda are two highly skilled drivers but polar opposites in their aesthetics, Hunt being the proverbial playboy extraordinaire, drinking heavily and sleeping around, driving hard and aggressively on the track, while Lauda is a low-key, meticulous and calculated, planning every part of his race with the utmost precision. Starting out their rivalry in Formula Three in 1970, the film comes to a head when the focus beams onto the 1976 Formula One season, when Lauda is the defending world champion for Ferrari and Hunt has landed a position with McLaren. Got it? I would say good, but I don't care, so keep pace!

Starting with the good about Rush, although I praised Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy earlier this year for The Heat, I would say that the combination of Hemsworth and Bruhl are about as good an onscreen duo as I have seen in recent years. I spent a while trying to think about whether or not there was a better actor in the equation, but I came to the conclusion that one can't be discussed without the other. Both men play the polar opposites well enough that the audience is directed towards neither over the other, giving one the choice if they wish to favour Lauda over Hunt, or vice versa. Also, Hemsworth and Bruhl work together intelligently, acting as the two Pong paddles bouncing the ball back and forth off of each other in this highly entertaining game of one-upsmanship which gets across every facet of their relationship which, though complex, is simple to define: even though they may at times absolutely loath one another, they both have a drive and determination to be the best at what they do, and both recognise and mutually respect this quality they possess. It's like that old saying (brownie points time!), "You and me are destined to do this forever." Like the onscreen Lauda and Hunt, Bruhl and Hemsworth's performances cannot exist independently of the other, and their extraordinary onscreen chemistry brings out the best in both of them. Another reason why the relationship of Hunt and Lauda works so well is because of the watertight script by Peter Morgan. This is the kind of movie that with the wrong writer could have been overly schmaltzy and full of expository nonsense, but Morgan gets down the core and crux of the characters, more so even than his previous work with Howard, Frost/Nixon, a movie I think very highly of. Also, structurally the design is pure textbook, and I mean that in a good way, for it's the kind of default script that would be worth looking at for budding screenwriters. The first act to set up the film is about thirty-forty minutes, then we spend the next hour or so on the 1976 season, with the third act building to a climax and tying up the film. Just a brief mention that although this is, acting wise, Hemsworth and Bruhl's film, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara and Christian McKay are deliver solid supporting performances. The film must also be praised for it's technical accomplishments. Anthony Dod Mantle (when is he ever not praiseworthy?) never ceases to amaze me as a cinematographer, and the way that he captures the visual language of the story is quite something. He's a man who, for all his innovation in digital cinematography, understands how to tell a story in an accessible and imagistic manner with sharp, clear precision. Furthermore, the way he shoots the F1 racing sequences, with first-person POV shots and shutter speeds that create these blurs which really makes you feel a part of the action. There were several times I was grinding my teeth and gripping the arms of my seat in the cinema. Also responsible for this high drama and tension are the editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill. As many editors have proven in the wake of the Jason Bourne movies, the use of digital cinematography shaky-cam methods is often taken as the cue to go all Michael Myers in the editing suite and not action cut a scene with any semblance of sequential coherence. Hanley and Hill though walk the tightrope with skill, cutting the racing scenes so as that they remain thoroughly intense, but also not forgetting that their duty, first and foremost, is to tell a story. I mentioned the imagism in relation to the cinematography, and the same can be said for the editing, because even if this was a silent movie, you'd still get it as a result of the intelligent use of montage putting over to the audience the metaphorical aspects of the Hunt/Lauda dichotomy. Another of the things that make Rush such a great film (and I will use that term already) is just how well the movie sounds. The sound designers, editors and foley artists have done an excellent bit of work to get us into the atmosphere of the racing scenes. When you're in these scenes, all you're getting is the sound of the engines and the wheels going round corners, and hearing this from the perspective of the drivers is really quite overwhelming and powerful. Many films neglect the art of sound design, but this is one movie that not only respects the medium, but also uses it to contribute to the overall drama of the film. Also, in the non-racing scenes, the score by Hans Zimmer is another one of his many great achievements as a composer. Sometimes it's hard to describe Zimmer, because listening to his work you just outright feel and understand it more than words can do justice. He builds things from the ground up with minimalism, for instance, with a single electric guitar and a few violins, followed by the arrival and a bass and an additional electric guitar, then a leitmotif is played a single cello, which becomes a melody, and the brass starts to come in, followed by percussive instruments, and the whole thing builds towards a glorious extended crescendo, returning to the leitmotif and gradually fading out. Excuse the gross, overly-descriptive blah blah there, but there is nary a composer (besides, perhaps, Howard Shore) who understands the musical of aesthetics of storytelling between than Zimmer, and this is another classic case of his majestic work. Finally, although he's made great films in the past, I feel that this Ron Howard's best film to date as a director. He has always been good at delivering a drama, but what I admire the most about how he handles Rush is that he manages to ensure that all the tangibles are consistently the part of one unified piece. All of his various collaborators do some terrific work, but Howard ensures that their contributions are all part of the same weave that is Rush, no one element overriding the other. On a personal note, I saw this last week, and the reason I'm taking the time is because I was in the cinema by myself (I went to an early screening) and for a while I was sure I was watching a very good movie, but by about halfway through I was convinced of its mastery. I cried at several occasions and was hooked throughout during racing sequences, and because of Howard's intuitive prerogative to make Rush all a consistent piece, it works as both a poignant human drama and as an intense action movie. 

Now, the criticisms. As you've gathered perhaps from the above praises, this section isn't going to be as thorough as most other movies. Just the occasional thing stuck out as awkward. For instance, although I think for the most part they did a fine job (I'll use this moment to flag up the collective work of those on the mise-en-scene), but there are times when the special effects do look like special effects. Also, though Morgan's script is for the most part flawless, there are at times little bits of dialogue which stick out, not quite as the proverbial thorns in the side, but more mildly irritant. 

Despite those little things and a bit of sour grapes after looking up Cole Smithey's tiresome drivel, neither of them can ruin the fact that Rush is one of the best films of the year. Not to go off on the old summary schtick again, but this is a movie that comprises of so many more elements that make up the masterwork. Film is a collaborative medium, and Rush is one of those pictures that is proof of the efforts of many people coming together to make the best movie possible. It delivers drama and action in equal doses, and will give the audience about as good a mainstream film that ticks the boxes as they're likely to see this year. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good good (not even Kojak Smithey can make me grumpy)

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