Car movies are hard to get right– Corvette Summer, 2 Fast, 2 Furious, Redline, all prove that just because everyone drives and some people make movies, that anyone in the film industry isn’t qualified to make a car movie. Far more difficult it is to make a good racing movie. Sure, you know the greats – Gran Prix, Le Mans and Winning – and all are undone by the legacy of Driven, arguably the worst piece of automotive cinema every conceived.
It is against this precarious history of driving movies that Ron Howard’s new film, Rush, stands out. By telling an epic human tale with the backdrop of racing, Rush is able to appeal to a broad audience, while keeping the most involved enthusiast on the edge of their seat.
Note: We screened Rush last night as guests of Lime Rock Park and Highcroft Racing. We thank them for their generosity and, like this film, continuing to foster the interest and enthusiast of car fans everywhere.
The Right Story
The plot of this film is centered on the 1976 Formula One season, and two of the sport’s greatest drivers, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Hunt was regarded as the sport’s great playboy while Lauda was a cold, calculating Austrian. They rose through the ranks in an era when cars were becoming insanely fast, and safety advancements were struggling to keep up. Howard manages to find great contrast in the rivalries of speed versus safety, calculation versus passion, ego versus id.
The two drivers were perfect manifestations of this dichotomy, with Lauda walking the track hours before a race, and tales of Hunt sipping champagne and taking a pull from a joint right before hopping into his car. It’s the ultimate racing odd couple. It’s a tale that even Hollywood couldn’t write, it could only come from reality.
The Right Racing
Everyone has a different era of racing. For some, it’s post-war F1, for others, it’s late 60s Le Mans– but the power and rate of evolution taking place in the mid-1970s in F1 was unrivaled. Engines were getting more powerful, tires more advanced, aerodynamics more crucial– all the while, someone had to drive these death machines.
That is why the racers of this era were revered as gods. Before there was Rush, there was Senna, a documentary about Ayrton Senna, one of F1’s greatest drivers, who was killed in a crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The documentary highlighted Senna’s rise to fame, his rivalry with French driver Alain Prost, and his untimely death.
The easy way out would have been for Howard to make a biopic of Senna, rather than pull form the rest of F1’s history. Thankfully Howard was not lazy.
The Right Cinematography
Don’t let ESPN’s NASCAR coverage or a Sunday Morning Fix-It show fool you – automotive video content has evolved tremendously in the last ten years. It just hasn’t made it to television or film. The affordability of GoPro cameras and the wide reach of YouTube, means that drivers and small-budget film crews are only limited by their imagination. As a result, we have a plethora of home-grown automotive videographers, and several marquee programs (such as the “/DRIVE” series on YouTube) showcasing the abilities of web-based camera crews.
All of this creativity in automotive web video is apparent in the shooting of Rush. It is the ultimate sizzle reel of coveted 1970’s racecars that enthusiasts dream about (aided by CGI that is finally realistic enough to be believable). Close-ups of everything from the engine valves in motion, to ultra-slow-motion tire movement to the suspension loading and unloading through a turn conspire to leave any enthusiast breathless – and hopefully make a few new ones as well. These wonderfully gratuitous car shots, set to Flux Pavilion’s “I Can’t Stop,” will get your heart racing:
There are also some very mechanical close-ups, which appear to take inspiration from the server-actuated, time-lapse videos of the night sky that have become popular. These techniques are used on close-ups of the racing shots and the engine. Driving home from this film, it will be VERY hard to obey traffic laws.
The extreme slow motion shots of the cars in the rain remind us of the Slow Mo Guys. In short, Howard has taken everything great about web video (that few others have even considered for traditional media) and applied it to a full length racing film. Match this with the original race footage used for the television coverage, and every technique feels new when applied to such a grand production. As such, Howard just rewrote the book on how to do a car movie.
The Right Stuff?
Flat out, Rush has taken a crazier-than-fiction, real-life drama, and used techniques previously unavailable to a director seeking to make an racing film. But Howard never complicates the plot too much. It is simply about two rival drivers and two contrasting ways of life. The film begs the question – “What gets you up in the morning: living, or surviving?” By the film’s end you truly root for both drivers, and applaud their short-term fates in the movie’s climax at the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix.
Rush is the film that should restore honor to the racing movie, should undo the stigma left on the genre by Driven, and could be the film that inspires new automotive enthusiasts. Lord knows we need it.