Rush – Film Review


Rush, Ron Howard’s latest film, explores the intense rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, two go for broke Formula 1 race car drivers who competed in the mid 1970’s. The filmmakers go to great lengths to seamlessly transport us back four decades, with careful crafting of  locations, costumes and hairstyles. There is attention paid to every detail right down to the period logos of the iconic sponsor brands. Making period films (sorry, but the ’70’s now qualify as a period) requires a unique eye and keen observation for the vibe of the time. Howard has had considerable practice. Apollo 13, probably his crown jewel, forced him back even further in time. Frost/Nixon, another of my favorite Howard films was also about two vastly different personalities playing a cat and mouse game with extremely high personal stakes.

Hunt is British and played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor). Hemsworth sculpts his portrayal of Hunt as a playboy who lives in the moment and that moment is always about one thing and one thing only; driving. His reputation makes it difficult for him to “find a ride” after his primary backer makes a major miscalculation in his initial foray into F1. Eventually Hunt is taken on by the McLaren racing team. We are only allowed a glimpse or two into Hunt’s more introspective side. While preparing for a race he holds the wheel while lying on his back beside his car and visualizes each turn, how he will shift and when to dart through a fresh opening.

Niki Lauda is played by Daniel Brühl, a seasoned actor from Germany. If Hunt is the playboy, Lauda is the perfectionist and deeply analytical. Serious drivers are married to their cars and in Luada’s case it’s beyond an obsession. He knows engineering, physics and the composition of raw materials that make up a quicker machine. During a scene where Lauda hitches a ride with his future bride he critiques her car. He is able to to observe the fan belt is loose and one of the tire is low on air. How? Through his butt. God gave him an ok mind and a brilliant butt. He can feel a car. For Niki, the car is a living organism.

To bring the cars to life, Howard hired cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire) to go deep inside the back story. Mantle uses the equivalent of an electron microscope to penetrate the inner workings of an F1 car. Pistons flexing, torque bars shifting and tires blistering. He gives us an exploded view of the car being pushed to it’s limits.

Lauda’s superior car set-up and carefully calculated driving skills are rewarded with the most points on the F1 circuit. Hunt’s marriage dissolves but his desire to become world champion is emboldened. Lauda played the percentages. He was comfortable with a 20% risk, but no more. Hunt had no such scale and felt more risk mean higher reward. Not fame or money, but personal reward. More fuel for his hi-ocatane lifestyle.

Archive photo of Niki Lauda’s 1976 crash

On August 1, 1976 in Germany, Lauda’s Ferrari was into the second lap when it hit the wall, drifted back into the center of the track and was struck by another driver. His Formula car burst into flames, exposing him to searing heat for over eight seconds. His injuries were serious. A singed right ear and eyelids. Loss of hair and scorched lungs. His motivation to return to the driver’s seat was provided by a successful Hunt  on the track. Hunt closed the points spread at an amazing pace, and so, Lauda made clear recovery decisions to get back to his ride. Repair my eyelids, yes. The scars on my head, I can wear a hat. And so he was back on the circuit well before anyone had expected.

My personal roots to cars and racing can be  traced back to my childhood. A close uncle drove on the high-banked, dirt oval circuit and my father and I followed him around  the midwest tracks until a crash ended his racing career. Another of my uncles was his mechanic and my father taught me how to perform nearly every maintenance necessary at that time to keep a car in tip top shape. Howard captures the primal aspects of speed, racing and competition.

The mid seventies was a time when sex was safe, but driving was dangerous. On the first day of my classroom driver’s education class my instructor proclaimed  following. “I want everyone to look at the person next to them. One of you will die in a car crash.” In those days you were shown the crash films like “Mechanized Death.” Real footage of the aftermath of a serious vehicular accident. There were no simulators then and you were taught driving game theory. Most roads were two lanes and you had to pass the Sunday drivers or it would take you all day to go anywhere.

When you’re passing someone and you see an unexpected oncoming car stick to this plan. Do not veer. The car coming toward you will steer to the right. The car next to you will steer to the right as well, opening up a window to move back into your lane. If for some reason that oncoming car doesn’t veer, then hit the accelerator. The slowest car loses.

Production is top notch all around. Special nod to Hans Zimmer and his soundtrack. It’s hard to compete with the roar of a gang of highly tuned race cars. But he moves past his  orchestration comfort zone and accepts the challenge to go hi-ocatane.

The official web site is basic. Surprise, surprise.

Photo Credits: Universal Studios

Frost/Nixon – Film Review

ttOn the first day of government class as a freshman in college, my professor entered the room pushing a television on a small cart and carrying a stack of magazines. He introduced himself and said that if anyone had not yet purchased the textbook to save their money. For those that already bought it, take it back and get a refund. Class time would be spent watching the Watergate hearings and our text was Time magazine. There was no better way to study government. It was the most interesting class I had ever taken and I thought college was way cool.

Frost/Nixon directed by Ron Howard is a searing, in-depth recreation of the famous interview that in many ways settled once and for all President Nixon’s involvement in Watergate for the American public. The screenplay is by Peter Morgan, adapted from his play. Mr. Morgan has shown an uncanny ability to provide an intimate look at famous public figures as he demonstrated in his scripts for The Queen and The Last King of Scotland. Clearly, he has continued to hone and advance his craft with Frost/Nixon.

David Frost was a popular British television talk show host in the ’70’s. He had shows in the UK as well as Australia and was known as a bit of a playboy. He was not a hard-hitting journalist and began his career as a comedian. So when he tried to get financing for his interview with Nixon, he was quickly turned down by the big networks and ridiculed by the serious Washington press corps.

The craft of the film is solid drama all the way. Great care went into getting all the details right. The movie is lensed in a straightforward manner echoing the face-to-face interview showdown. But there is a hint of documentary style in there as well. Cross-cutting to characters who are recounting their experiences as events unfold on the screen. Mr. Howard did not lean heavily on actual footage of the day, but he shows extended and brutal newsreel footage from Cambodia which seemed entirely unnecessary and out of place. The fusion of these two strong styles punctuates the personal involvement of the characters. Everyone has a strong personal agenda. All are playing serious except for Frost, who seems to be skating along as if he was hosting another publicity stunt.

Frank Langella is nothing short of magnificent as Nixon. Cold, calculating, still at the top of his game intellectually. But a broken man, having been forced to resign the presidency. Mr. Langella delivers beautifully on the voice as well as the physicality of Nixon. So much so that we believe we are actually watching Nixon after a few minutes into the film. Nixon was a master at pushing his opponents back on their heels with well timed comments. Watching his performance makes me want to revisit Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Nixon in Oliver Stone’s film.

David Frost is played by Michael Sheen, who was positively heroic as Tony Blair in The Queen. He shapes Frost quickly and solidly and we soon learn that Frost is in way over his head on almost every front. He is out maneuvered by Nixon in the first three interview sittings and everyone wonders when he is going to take control. In a pivotal scene on a simple, fenced in patio of a home in Southern California, we realize that as an Englishman, Frost doesn’t share the passion and need for justice in the way his American colleagues do. But he has everything on the line now, financially and professionally and realizes he needs to raise his game. I don’t believe his motivations are aligned with the Americans all around him.

The film’s turning point is when Nixon makes a late night call to Frost in his hotel room after he has had a drink or two. It’s a truly amazing scene by Mr. Langella as he channels Nixon’s desire to compete, even make right ,the uncertainty in the minds of Americans, with an even stronger desire to be liked. Frost finally does his homework and the rest is history.

Everything about this film technically is stunning, particularly the editing, which seems to compress this two hour film down to about forty-five minutes. Hans Zimmer’s score does not over dramatize, but instead compliments the mood and tone. It’s post-presidential and appropriately subtle. The Academy has nominated Frost/Nixon for 5 Oscars: Picture, Directing, Editing, Adapted Screenplay and Frank Langella for Actor. It’s a big time film and I highly recommend it.

Photos from Universal Studios. Visit the official Frost/Nixon web site here. It’s well done, informative and links off learn more sites.