Director Ron Howard's new biopic Rush—about rival Formula One drivers in the '70s—is good. It's not great, and it's not "meh"... it's just solidly "good." In other words, it's exactly what one would expect from solidly "good" director Ron Howard. However, a closer look makes one suspect that Rush says more about its director than its characters.
Racing nuts are well acquainted with the bitter rivalry between Formula One champs James Hunt and Niki Lauda—primarily because these two could not have been more different. Hunt was a stunningly handsome English playboy (well played here by the stunningly handsome Chris Hemsworth), a hard-partying adrenaline junkie who raced on pure instinct. Conversely, Lauda was the methodical Austrian (just as perfectly embodied by Daniel Brühl) who intricately planned every race, and knew his car better than his mechanics. He was also nicknamed the "Rat"—due to his less-than-stunning looks and general unlikeability.
Both were dicks to each other, and their obsessive rivalry nearly pushed each other to their deaths—but it's pretty apparent whom director Howard is siding with in this "objective" biography: Lauda. While one can't help but admire Hunt's wicked driving skills, he's still a type-A personality meathead who generally despises the thoughtful, workmanlike mentality that Lauda (and Howard) represent.
And like Lauda's brilliant driving, Howard's work comes off as similarly methodical, expertly thought out, and gorgeous to watch. And also a little bloodless. The plot's by-the-numbers structure, the only moderately thrilling race scenes, the almost heavy-handed morality—there are no surprises here. (Other than the aforementioned gorgeous cinematography, which absolutely nails the look and feel of early '70s racing flicks such as Steve McQueen's Le Mans.)
Howard obviously respects the brutish sensuality and performance of Hunt, and that twinge of jealousy is apparent here. If a filmmaker with Hunt's personality had made Rush, it could've been amazing or absolutely terrible—at least we know we're in safe, "good" hands with Howard.
dir. Ron Howard