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Ron Howard is a director that most think rather highly of, but the truth of the matter is that he’s somewhat inconsistent. Sure, we all love “Apollo 13” and “Frost/Nixon,” but there’s also his lousy adaptations of “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons.” He’s even dabbled in comedy a bit over his many years, most recently with 2011’s “The Dilemma.” Anyone remember that train wreck? Probably not, because our perceptions of his skills as a director are skewed towards his greater works. His latest, “Rush,” is closer to the latter films than the former, unfortunately, but that doesn’t automatically make it bad. It’s a good movie and its problems stem more from a slightly unfocused script and poor characterizations than any specific directorial decision, but as far as dramatic, based-on-true-stories go, it’s not particularly memorable.

The movie takes place in the 70s and stars Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, a reckless Formula One racecar driver with dreams of becoming world champion. He’s one of the absolute best in the sport, matched only by Niki Lauda, played by Daniel Bruhl. The movie follows their rivalry and creates an interesting dynamic between the two. Despite their dislike for each other, there’s a mutual respect. Without the other, they would be unstoppable, which isn’t as interesting to them. It’s the competition, the thrill of victory after a hard fought battle, that compels them to do what they do. Because the two hardly spend any time together, their complicated relationship must have been tough to convey, but “Rush” rises to this challenge. Aside from the intellectually insulting closing narration that unnecessarily spells out their feelings, the complexity of their bond is handled with aplomb.

Nevertheless, the film loses its focus all too quickly. Just as we’re getting to know one of these men, a transition is made to the other, or even worse, the focus leaves them altogether. Too much of the early moments in the movie focus on the economics of racing—like the battle to find a sponsor—rather than the emotional struggle and pressure they must have felt in those early days. Too often, important moments in the lives of these men are glossed over. These moments could have helped us gain perspective on who they were and what drove them to race so vigorously, but the movie doesn’t seem interested in that. A good example comes in the form of Hunt’s short-lived wife, Suzy Miller, played by Olivia Wilde. When she randomly and awkwardly appears, the film immediately cuts to their marriage, only for the next scene to play out their break-up. She then disappears for nearly the entirety of the rest of the movie, reappearing only for a brief lunch scene with Hunt. It’s implied that Hunt’s love of racing interfered with his love for Suzy, but the entire arc is rushed through so quickly, it hardly makes an impact.

I suppose such a decision was a conscious one. The film is trying to condense many years worth of time into a couple hours—seen most noticeably when it starts bypassing important races and instead lets us know what happened through onscreen text, not exactly the most exciting tactic one can use in a movie about racing—so Suzy’s lack of prominence isn’t surprising. If this speedy approach does one thing well, it filters out some of the narrative pollution and allows the natural tension of such a dangerous sport to take center stage. These drivers live on the edge, well aware that every time they hop on that track, it could be their last. As Hunt puts it early on, “The closer to death you are, the more alive you feel. It’s a wonderful way to live, as if each day is your last.” This theme is an interesting one that will allow those who have never really done anything daring to live vicariously through the characters. Even if you don’t care at all about Formula One racing, it will be hard to deny that you weren’t on the edge of your seat during the nail-biting finale.

Yet the fact remains that the film, from a storytelling and scriptural point of view, is lacking. Frankly, if you’re looking for a great movie with a similar story, you’re better off with 2010’s wonderful “Senna.” Although a documentary, its drama is more potent, its action is more intense and the devastating ending touches on feelings “Rush” doesn’t come close to. With some great performances and exciting sequences accompanied by a sometimes frustrating lack of focus, “Rush” relegates itself to a minor diversion and nothing more.

Rush receives 3/5



It’s astonishing how few people watch documentaries, but it’s offensive how many refuse to. There are those who say documentaries are boring and preachy. They don’t want to look at talking heads and be told how to think. To those people, I say watch Senna. There isn’t a more exciting, action packed and, ultimately, heartbreaking movie to come out this year and, yes, it’s a documentary. We’ve all seen movies about greed, corruption and backstabbing, but not like this. This isn’t some fictional tale from the mind of a Hollywood screenwriter. It’s real and that makes it all the more enticing.

Senna is about the life of three time world champion, Brazilian Formula One racecar driver Ayrton Senna, largely considered one of the greatest racers to ever grace the track, and it follows his trials and tribulations that eventually led to his death in 1994. It’s a deep and personal look into his life, defining him as a man of convictions; in God, in family and in himself. It explores his personality traits as well, showing him as a humble and kindhearted, though imperfect and occasionally arrogant, man whose stubbornness eventually led to his demise.

Senna presents all this with a staggering amount of old footage. Every shot, except for perhaps the early title card sequence, comes from existing footage; there isn’t a talking head in sight. If not for the voiceovers, it would be easy to forget this is even a documentary. It certainly doesn’t feel like one. Unlike most documentaries, it doesn’t tell us his story. It shows it. You’ll get to see the emotion in his face and in those around him. You’ll realize when someone is keeping a secret and when someone is overwhelmed with sadness. The greatest actor in Hollywood can try, but will never be able to capture what you see here.

Even if you’re not a fan of racing, as is the case with myself, the politics of the sport will keep you enraptured. The corruption behind the scenes is despicable and thrilling at the same time. In one pivotal moment in the film, Senna is stripped of a championship after his one-time partner, Alain Prost, goes behind his back to those in charge. This leads to a dramatic rivalry between the two that spans years and gives us a glimpse into the dark side of Senna. In response, he sabotages Prost in the same race the very next year and, though it’s certainly not the right or noble thing to do, you understand why he does it and you get to see the unhappiness and guilt that follows his actions, giving him redemptive qualities.

Had that guilt not been so evident, his redemption would still be present in his love for his country and his (barely touched upon) charitable work. He was seen as a hero in Brazil, which was suffering through tough times, and his accomplishments meant more for his country than perhaps anybody, including Senna, could have realized. It wasn’t until his death that his importance was truly understood. The tears shed by Brazil’s citizens are evidence enough of that.

Senna sets up what seems like a traditional good guy, bad guy story—Senna is clearly the hero and Prost is his nemesis—but it doesn’t end with the defeat of the bad guy. Our hero dies instead, but there’s no celebrating of Senna’s death by Prost, only mourning. It’s at this moment you realize that, despite all of their flaws, there were no good people or bad people in the film; just people. It’s a very emotional finale, even if you’ve never heard of Ayrton Senna before now (which was the case for me before seeing the movie). Senna simultaneously weeps for a man that had so much more to accomplish and celebrates his life. It’s a must see.

Senna receives 4.5/5