‘Rush’ Review: By Far Ron Howard’s Best Film

Perhaps the most successful example of what some would derogatorily call a “studio hack,” Ron Howard has been making efficient mainstream entertainments since the early 1980s. The best of these (Apollo 13, Parenthood, Splash, Cocoon)  are fun, engaging movies, without any particular style or subtext to elevate them beyond the realm of decent Friday night fodder; films I might happily get sucked into while flipping through cable, but never anything that I would necessarily revisit on purpose, or feel particularly passionate about. So when I say that Rush is by far my favorite film of his career, it’s a qualified statement, though an enthusiastic one nevertheless. 

Charting the true story of James Hunt’s and Nikki Lauda’s rivalry during the legendary 1976 Formula 1 Grand Prix, what is most surprising about Rush is how it initially sets up the usual sport movie cliches—charismatic blonde hero vs. unlikeable Euro-villain—only to subvert them for something far more interesting: a genuinely character-based drama. Peter Morgan’s well-structured screenplay gives equal time to both Hunt and Lauda, and engages audience sympathy in unexpected ways, so that by the last act, we’re rooting for both men to succeed, not as heroes, but as complicated, flawed sides of the same coin.
 
Introduced as an almost caricatured happy-go-lucky playboy, Chris Hemsworth exudes genuine sex appeal and star charisma as British golden boy James Hunt, while slowly revealing the self-destructive side of the character’s easy charm  and “live-fast” credo. And yet as good as Hemsworth is, it’s Daniel Bruhl who steals the movie as Nikki Lauda, whose arrogance and apparent misanthropy mask a fierce commitment to excellence and an ever-more admirable lack of interest in the trappings of fame and how others perceive him. The actual story of how the season played out is riveting stuff, allowing the real life twists and turns to consistently trump our more formulaic expectations of how this kind of narrative plays out—especially if, like me, you have no prior knowledge, or interest, in Formula One history.
 
Most refreshingly, it’s the loose, energetic style of the film-making that makes this stand head and shoulders over Ron Howard’s body of work—embodying both Hunt’s recklessness and Lauda’s precision with startling cinematography (courtesy of the brilliant Arthur Dodd Mantle) and a fast-paced editing style that never lets the momentum flag while always keeping the audience well-orientated within the action. The racing scenes are electrifying, but even more so because of how the film stylistically integrates the two protagonists’ inner lives into the fabric of each race. And Howard effortlessly sets up and maintains a tone that lets the film play out as fantastic entertainment as well as a deeper examination into the ways in which two very different men are spurred to greatness, by their own demons and by each other, within a death-defying profession.
 
Unfortunately, the film’s two final scenes let the side down a little, repeatedly making sledgehammer overt the very themes that were so successfully layered in for the preceding two hours, and while by no means a deal-breaker, it’s a shame the film-makers didn’t trust the audience a little more, and find a better grace note to end on. But that small caveat aside, Rush is an absolute blast. It’s one of the happiest surprises of the fall season, and has me more excited than ever for the next phase of Ron Howard’s career—perhaps an auteur at long last.

Costume Designer Julian Day on Giving Ron Howard’s ‘Rush’ the Look and Thrill of the Time

On very rainy, very grey day in May, I sat down in an empty theater—save a lone critic or two—for an early screening of Ron Howard’s Rush. Naturally my anticipation ran high, but if you were to have told me that I’d find myself wholly embracing a Hollywood film about Formula 1 racing, I’d have vehemently disagreed. However, from the very beginning, Howard’s film totally captured me, offering a dynamic feature spun from the true story of Niki Lauda and James Hunt, their rivalry, and the near-fatal accident that almost cost Lauda his life.

As a genuinely compelling drama, not only played out as biography of the two drivers, but a story about competition and the ways life’s most difficult challenges are what propels us forward, Rush is a kinetic thrill ride that certainly leaves you satisfied. Starring actors Chris Hemsworth as the Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Lauda, the film was shot by the brilliant Anthony Dod Mantle, who elevates the film immensely, with an aesthetic that seduces you into the danger of each race, the beauty of every high-speed scene, and the quiet moments in between. And enhancing those aesthetics even further, is the work of costume designer Julian Day, who worked to recreate the alluring and lush fashion of the 1970s. From the racing suits that Lauda and Hunt wear, to the elegant garmnets donned by the women that surrounded them, and the crowds that cheered for them from up high, he echoed the luxurious and sensuousness of the time with the help of design houses, Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo. 
 
Earlier this month, I got the chance to speak with Day about working with Howard, his personal connection to Forumla 1 racing, and the way he crafted the sleek and stylish sartorial look of the picture.
 
How did you become involed with the film and can you tell me about the experience of working with Ron Howard as a director?
I knew the producer on the film and he told me there was a movie called Rush about Formula 1 racing. So I was interested and went in not knowing that I was going to meet Ron, and obviously, that was incredible. I always hoped to work with a director as good as Ron. He’s a brilliant director, as we’ve seen over the years, but he liked my work and it went on from there. He’s a real collaborative director and an incredible guy. He really inspires people and was a pleasure to work with.
 
And interestingly, you have personal connection to Formula 1?
Yes, my personal connection is that my father built one of the cars used in the 1970s. He made a version of the Formula 1 cars and that car is actually in the film. So I used to go visit Formula 1 tracks and watch the Grand Prix. It’s an incredible sport.
 
Was it interesting now to revisit this world that you grew up around and get to re-imagine the fashion of a time you weren’t old enough to embrace then?
Yes. Obviously my view of the 1970s is a little young, I was 10 in1975, but I have quite a good memory of it. I remember how my mom always looked very glamorous and my dad looked very laid back—maybe had one too many buttons undone on his shirt. There were a lot of incredible people around at that time and it was very easy. Looking back, you see all the photographs and you realize what a sexy year it was. People were really interested in enjoying themselves and dressing well and having a good time. So those wee some of my impressions. When you do your research, you realize that there was a lot of money around Formula 1 and they were very much like gladiators of the 1970s. They did these death defying stunts and that attracted a lot of people. Now there’s more safety in it, but I think that kind of danger has gone out quite a bit. It was an era of danger; you were putting your life on the lien every time you got into the car. These people lived for the moment and that was one of the things I wanted to get across in film with the fashion.
 
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James and Nicki were both fashioned by Gucci and Ferragamo respectably. Can you tell me about working with those labels and styling the two men?
It was the era of big labels. And they’re obviously very fantastic labels. They both represent that time and how to could be subtle but also quite brash at other times. The fabrics they wore were very important. We used a lot of luxury fabrics like cashmere and silk. Those fashion houses are so great and they’re true luxury fashion houses. You can’t get better than those two, in my opinion. They done a lot of work within films over the years and they were fantastic. But they also really represented the two couples.
 
Because the film takes place over so many different locations, did you have to create different looks to suit each race and country? There were all those people in the crowd, and was making sure they had the right look just as important at the principal characters?
I’ve always felt that the crowd is just an important as the principles. They paint the picture of the period; if you get the crowd wrong, you’ve got the film wrong. The crowd are the brush strokes of the painting, really. I did a lot of research into how everyone looked, so when you look at pictures from that era, you see that a lot of primary colors were involved—reds that pop, oranges, blues, greens, yellows, etc. That’s what I wanted to get across. When you’re going through those years and different Grand Prix locations, or when it’s raining and dark, or sunny and light, people will look at it and go, “Well, this must have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make.” But actually in some respects, it was quite a low-budget film. But the film does not feel like the amount of money that was spent on it. And so I was combining what I collected from the various warehouses and cultivated hundreds of pieces. There would be a day when we would shoot a scene in Germany in winter and then have to do the next scene of Brazil in the summer. But I had a great crew behind me; they were fantastic and we literally overdressed everybody. They’d have weather gear in one scene and then we’d shoot another scene where they’d take that off and have another outfit but it was done in a very subtle way.
 
Was there a favorite moment in the film for you or favorite look?
The whole film is really my favorite. When I watch a film, I watch it as a whole. But if there’s a favorite moment, it’s when Suzy meets James. I think that’s just fantastic and such a real moment between them on screen. But I loved doing the race suits. Some designers might not be into that, but I really liked doing all the team uniforms. McLaren actually had Adidas giving them new trainers for every single race and so we contacted Adidas and they gave us trainers. So doing the teams and the race suits were as interesting to me as doing the fashion design as well.
 
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The race suits have changed a lot since back in the 1970s, even in terms of the weight of them, how did you go about capturing the authenticity and was that something that was important?
Absolutely. I worked with two really good companies. And for different races, different sponsors would be involved. So some days we’d shoot something from 1974 and then from 1976 and it was always changing. So I sat dow with Ron and we went through all the different looks and the logos and helmets and how they would all represent the different year. I worked with a company in Italy and went to their factory and saw all the looks. They were much heavier in the 1970s and so we made them look that way. But one of the challenges with this movie was that, in a lot of movies, the gear doesn’t actually have to work. But in this, these guys were actually racing for real. So if something happened they would all have to be safety proof. We had to make sure they were all up to standards and were treating them well.
 
Did you want to create a distinction between the color palette of the looks at the races and the looks at home to show the heightened sense of thrill and life on the track compared to how the wold dulled outside of it?
Yeah, and I think that comes across in the film. There is a more subtle hue to the colors I used when they’re not racing. And again, rather than use primary colors and bright colors for the off track scenes, I used luxury fabrics. So you still get that sense of decadence but with the fabrics rather than the colors.
 
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Start Your Engines: Ron Howard’s “Rush” and Claude Lelouch’s “C’était un Rendezvous”

Ron Howard’s upcoming film Rush tells the story of the infamous rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the World Championship at Fuji in Japan. There’s no better way to gear up for all the burning rubber than to watch C’était un Rendezvous.

Director Claude Lelouch’s nine-minute-long cinematic masterpiece was made in the same year that Howard’s film is set. Rendezvous depicts a high-speed early-morning drive through the streets of Paris that most certainly broke a few laws. There is no narration. No music. Simply the sound of a revving engine going through its paces, images of an awakening City of Lights whizzing by (thanks to a grill-mounted camera) and an ending that is trés romantique.

Rendezvous has become the stuff of legend (Who drove the car? Was it a Formula One driver or Lelouch himself? What car was used?), with fans tracing the actual route in Paris—or making their own versions in other cities, including avid car collector Jay Leno, who did his own tribute ("one of my favorite car films of all time") on a circuit near his Beverly Hills home in a Mercedes SLS AMG.

C’était un Rendezvous (1976) [full]:

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Rush (2013) [trailer]:

A Selection Of Cultural Works Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Words

It’s been a sad few weeks in the literary world—following the passings of Maurice Sendak and Carlos Fuentes last month, we begin June by mourning the passing of poet, short story author, screenwriter, novelist and general sci-fi giant/master of the alien and sinister, Ray Bradbury, who passed away yesterday at the age of 91. 

Bradbury left an indelible mark on the literary and entertainment worlds thanks to his vivid imagination, eerie ability to predict the future and long, varied and prolific career. Here are just a few of the myriad examples of how Bradbury’s works have lived on off the page, on the big screen, small screen and in song. 

Fahrenheit 451

Several adaptations and iterations exist of Bradbury’s most important (and frequently challenged in schools) novel, Fahrenheit 451, the author’s spinning of a dystopian future in which dissent is virtually nonexistent and books are burned en masse. The most iconic of these is François Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation, the only film the French New Wave legend ever made in English. It won several awards, and the general approval of the author. 

The novel was later rearticulated as Michael Moore’s firebrand 2004 documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, a much-discussed and provocative look at America during the beginnings of the War on Terror. The tagline, lifted directly from the one for Bradbury’s novel, was "The Temperature at Which Freedom Burns." 

Something Wicked This Way Comes

 Walt Disney adapted the haunted-carnival story and Halloween staple into a 1983 film starring Jonathan Pryce and Jason Robards. It flopped at the box office but was up for many major sci-fi awards, not to mention providing a whole lot of nightmare fuel for a generation of American children. 

In the novel, two teenage boys have a run-in with an alluring but terrifying traveling carnival that turns the town upside down. In the South Park episode "Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes," a certain sinister department store assumes the role. 

The Shakespearean title of the work appears in a number of album titles and songs, ranging from heavy metal to Britrock and acid jazz. It appears as the chorus on this track from 2Pac’s debut album, 2Pacalypse Now

The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury’s alien-encounter epic series was turned into a three-part miniseries in 1980 and sported an all-star cast, including Roddy McDowell, Rock Hudson and Bernadette Peters. The script deviated quite a bit from the novel, but more importantly, we had no idea Mars looked so much like a Hollywood soundstage littered with leftover props from the Stonehenge scene from This Is Spinal Tap

Short Stories

Giant-head wearing master of the turntables Deadmau5 crafted his single, "The Veldt," based on a Bradbury short story of the same name. In the story, two parents who build their children a freakish nursery replicated after the African savannah, complete with robotic lions, end up becoming victims of their own creation. You probably would not have guessed that had you just listened to the deadmau5 track, though. 

If any band would be major fans of Ray Bradbury, it pretty much had to be Rush, now, didn’t it? In 1984, the Canadian prog-rockers released "The Body Electric," which borrows its name from a Bradbury short story, "I Sing The Body Electric" (which in turn, borrows its name from a Walt Whitman poem… how meta) as well as some thematic elements (the plot about humanoid robots). 

One of Elton John’s greatest hits, "Rocket Man (And I Think It’s Going To Be a Long, Long Time)" echoes the plot of Bradbury’s short story, The Rocket Man, in which an astronaut experiences a case of the "grass is always greener" syndrome and misses his wife and family while in space. 

The Man and His Life

For a bonus entry, here is Rachel Bloom’s 90th birthday tribute to the man and his literature: "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury." This hilarious—but NSFW—tribute includes couplets like, "You write about Earthlings going to Mars / I write about blowing you in my car." Whoa. 

F*ck Me, Ray Bradbury – watch more funny videos