‘Rush’ excels on all fronts with realistic, witty portrayals

The story about two Formula 1 rivals sounds like just another sports movie; but “Rush” is a cinematic experience in its own right. Unlike most historically based films that insist on a documentary-style reenactment, “Rush’s” story line knows when to accelerate and when to brake. With quips and one-liners that made the two racers simultaneously dirty-mouthed jerks and charismatic legends, the script proves realism does not have sacrifice itself for wittiness.

The real magic though, lies in what is not spoken: The rumble of the engines and in the crackling of the flames, the raised middle fingers and comradely salutes, Niki Lauda’s stiff nods and James Hunt’s all-knowing winks. The cast captured the body language of their characters beautifully. Daniel Brühl, who plays the scientifically-minded Lauda, licked his lips smugly, while Chris Hemsworth, who plays the playboy superstar Hunt, strides confidently.

The racers shared the addiction for the adrenaline from the track but they could not have been more different in their approach. With his long blonde hair, Englishman Hunt thought he was a rock-star, eternally with a drink in his hand and women in his arms. The Viennese Lauda, on the other hand, had abandoned his father’s dream of joining the family firm, but kept the economist’s brain to negotiate his way into the racer’s game and the engineer’s mind to design a faster car. This narrative works so well on its own that the movie components – from directing to editing and costume design to soundtrack – actually did well to step back and let the story speak for itself.

The cinematography could easily have gone fan-boy flashy. Instead, it was mostly clean-cut, saving the lens flares and slow downs for the final scenes when rain dramatically fell and point-of-view angles put the audience into the driver’s helmet. And leave it to the soundtrack genius of Hans Zimmer to hit that elusive balance in these critical race scenes that manages to pump your blood without blatantly thumping in your ears.

Likewise, what stood out in the costume designing was not in what the actors wore, but what they did not. Hemsworth’s lack of shoes reinforced his effortless “I-don’t-give-a-damn charm,” and Olivia Wilde’s lack of a bra highlighted her feminine appeal. Still, the costume designer did not just use the ’70s as an excuse to open Hemsworth’s shirt down to his navel or to play with plaids and colors. It is obvious that the designer studied the epoch and artfully adapted it to a modern audience.

The resulting effect of the visual and auditory elements provides an uncluttered canvas for the timeless story that asks the universal question of mind versus gut, science versus instinct, discipline versus hedonism. But like the two opponents who were so radically different, yet needed each other to give their best on the track, the movie insinuates that neither mindset is better than the other.

“Happiness is the enemy,” says Lauda, his calculative mind afraid of having too much to risk. But Hunt says there’s no point in winning if you don’t take the time to enjoy. This contrast in how both men approached their sport (and their women) will leave the audience picking sides and even asking themselves the same eternal question.