Ron Howard's career as a director of feature films has ranged from Splash to Apollo 13 to A Beautiful Mind, but it began with the humble action comedy Grand Theft Auto, made on the cheap under the auspices of exploitation-movie kingpin Roger Corman in 1977. Rush is no low-budget lark, but as a movie about crazed people in fast-moving cars it does represent a return (of sorts) to Howard's roots. Maybe that's why this true story of the intense rivalry between champion Formula One race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s is the most inspired work Howard has done in a while, a rare action movie made with grown-ups in mind.
It's not easy to make a visually interesting film that's essentially about race cars driving around and around a track, but Howard assembled a team led by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and production designer Mark Digby, who together created the frenetic and highly saturated visuals of Slumdog Millionaire. It's a nice fit for Rush, which manages to wring cinematic style from an absurdly fast-paced editing technique. The result is an artful recreation of what it must feel like to weave through tiny, tightly packed cars at 170 mph in a death-defying sport that lost an average of two drivers per year to fiery crashes during its '70s heyday.
Written by Peter Morgan, who specializes in recent historical epics (The Last King of Scotland, Howard's Frost/Nixon), Rush devotes much time and energy to illuminating the two characters at its center. The free-spirited and charismatic Englishman, Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), contrasts sharply with cold Austrian technician Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), and each is more clearly defined — even made complete — by the differences between them. Though Rush may be all about the throes of competition, it has some things to say about the human traits that always bring us back for more. — KEN KORMAN