Saturday, October 05, 2013

Driven



I'm not a racing fan per se. I don't dislike it. As a general sports nut, I will watch a bit of everything. A NASCAR race , maybe some motorcycling racing ... and occasionally a Formula One race. But it's been awhile since I followed it with any kind of regularity. About 10 years ago, one of my best friends was a big Formula One fan and this almost forced me to become aware of racers like Michael Schumaker. But I was sadly (and blissfully) unaware of the rivalry in the 70's between British driver James Hunt and Austrian driver Niki Lauda.

An interest in racing is not necessary to appreciate Rush. The race scenes are great but ultimately it is the interplay between the Hunt and Lauda characters that is the strength of this movie. Since watching Rush, I've done a bit more research into both Hunt and Lauda and see how well each of their characters were cast in both looks and demeanor. Thor's Chris Hemsworth has always had that natural charisma and rakish good looks that Hunt had. And Daniel Bruhl, now also being seen in The Fifth Estate, does a fine job in the role of Lauda. Olivia Wilde, while being in a smaller role as Hunt's wife (for a time), is gorgeous. Her acting is fine, but she just doesn't get a lot of screen time. I did find it fascinating that she left Hunt to go out with Richard Burton, revealing how big Formula One was at the time and the level of celebrity that it had attained.

The rivalry between the drivers is at the heart of the story. Though they were drastically different: Hunt, an unredeemable playboy and lover of life and Lauda, a prickly and calculating tactician, it was their relationship to each other that drove both of them. While not getting too in-depth into the events of the movie, it is the drive to race and beat each other that gives them strength in crisis situations off-the-track.

Racing is just the vehicle, pardon the pun, for the point of the story.  As the poster says, "Everyone's driven by something."  Both of the racers are driven by a need to rise above the expectations of their families.  Hunt has a maniacal need to experience everything to the fullest, something that makes him seemingly careless in real life and hard to beat on the track.  Lauda, from a family of high achievers in business and government, feels that driving is the only thing he can do well and he is going to prove that he is the best.  Good movies make a person think about your own life in a more immediate way than books do.  The best movies will even motivate us to action or to changing something in our own lives.  While I'm not intimating that Rush caused me to reevaluate my life in any substantive way, it was successful in getting me to at least think about the reasons that I do things in work and in my personal life.

It's one of the best movies I have seen this year.  You root for each of the drivers despite (and sometimes because of) their obvious shortcomings.  They are are so focused on their driving that relationships outside of racing are strained.  Their differences in style cause conflict between the racers early on but grow into a grudging respect.  While I believe this is done primarily for dramatics in the movie, as the drivers were actually quite close in real life and even shared an apartment early in their careers, there's no point in letting the truth get in the way of a good story.

Director Ron Howard knows how to tell a good story and I've always been a fan of his work (Frost/Nixon, A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13 being my favorites).  The movie clocks in at about 2 hours but does not seem long.  The characters are established well and organically without slowing down the narrative.  I recommend Rush.  Grade:  A

(Expect a fairly rapid-fire barrage of movie reviews over the next few weeks.  I've finally gotten into a writing mood and will hammer out reviews of most of the decent movies I've seen this year.  No particular order ... I'm just going to let the subject matter or emotions of each lead me to the next in line.)

1 comment:

William Stachour said...

Susan and I saw this about a week ago. Been meaning to write a review, but if I don't get right on it the details begin to fade.

As a longtime F1 fan, I had an inherent interest in the story, though the Hunt / Lauda rivalry was prior to my own following of the sport.

I agree that the casting and Howard's direction are real strong suits. I honestly don't know how he could have cast better. And the rivalry and drama come kind of pre-packaged in any kind of a sporting story (or it's possible anyway). Apart from the slight tickling of a mancrush on Chris Hemsworth, I just didn't find too much to like in either of these characters. They're both very *interesting,* which is enough to carry a compelling story; but I didn't particularly like either one of them.

Having said that, I have long suspected that anyone competing in this kind of sport at this level must be a bit of a monomaniac. I just think these guys are not normal people. That makes them inherently fascinating to watch and (to me) slightly off-putting.

Good review. I don't really know what grade I'd give it. I think Howard has squeezed as much as possible out of this material--it's surely an A for racing movies--but the material has something less than universal interest.