“The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel. It’s a wonderful way to live. It’s the only way to drive,” says James Hunt.
I’ve never been much of a race car driving fan, or viewer for that matter. I don’t watch NASCAR and I’ve been against any race car driving coming to New York City. Maybe it’s because I’m not a redneck. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen the point in a bunch of guys (or women more recently) driving 500 miles in a circle (or an oval if you want to be more technical). The only logical reason to really watch race car driving is to keep an eye out for accidents (especially if the fans in the stands are physically hurt). I’ve always believed that the deaths of NASCAR fans at the track would raise the I.Q. level of the general public. To put simply: I hate watching real life race car driving.
I must say, however, that I find race car driving sequences in movies quite exciting. A combination of the right film and sound editing will deliver thrills in a way that a live race could never deliver (even one that’s broadcast on TV). Of course, the director needs to create the right shots in order to give the film editor the material needed to create the correct rhythm and pace for such sequences. Perhaps the best example of this is John Frankenheimer’s 1966 film Grand Prix; while it may not be a good movie, the racing footage was incredible, resulting in the film’s three Oscar wins for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. It is to my surprise, then, that the director of Rush, the story of the rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s, was none other than Oscar-winning director Ron Howard. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised considering that his directorial debut feature was 1977’s Grand Theft Auto (which is NOT related to the video game of the same name). His output in the last few years, with the exception of 2008’s Frost/Nixon, has made me wonder if he was straying too far from high quality filmmaking. It is with great relief that not only does his new film Rush mark a return to form for Howard, but it is also quite possibly his best film since 1995’s Apollo 13.
Howard’s excellent film boasts a terrific screenplay from Peter Morgan (the Oscar-nominated writer of Frost/Nixon). It also boasts strong performances from the cast, particularly Chris Hemsworth as the brash, risk-taking Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as the methodical and calculating Lauda. Hans Zimmer, who once in a while surprises film music listeners with a strong score in between more lazy efforts, manages to surprise with a thrilling and dramatic score that not only supports this film but nearly puts his Man of Steel score to shame. The film editing by Daniel P. Handley and Mike Hill is superb; they keep the film moving at a great pace while creating some of the best race car driving sequences ever for a film. Handley and Hill’s film editing goes hand-in-hand with Danny Hambrook and Markus Stemler’s excellent sound design, which increases the adrenalin created by Handley and Hill’s editing. Even with superb costume and makeup designs as well as cinematography, it is the rivalry between Hunt and Lauda that ultimately anchors the film; their drive and dedication to being the best at great cost as well as their trials and tribulations created one of the best rivalries in sports history and one of the most inspirational sports films ever. Welcome back, Ron Howard.