After months of anticipation, “Rush” finally hits U.S. cinema screens nationwide on Friday. Race fans who would have gone to see it anyway now know they are in for a treat, given the positive views they have read on Twitter from racing insiders and others who have seen it in Europe or elsewhere. (Read RACER’s review here)
Significantly, mainstream critics, people who have little or no knowledge of or interest in motor racing, have also got behind the film in a big way. Hollywood trade paper Variety was hugely enthusiastic, as was Rolling Stone, and on Monday USA Today called it “a tale with wide appeal,” with the “most enthralling action sequences of any movie this year.” The paper also said that “Rush” is Ron Howard’s best film and given that he won the Best Director Academy Award for 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind,” that’s a pretty bold statement.
As an Oscar winner, Howard has nothing left to prove, and yet his enthusiasm for new challenges remains undimmed. Since his debut with the low-budget “Grand Theft Auto” in 1977, he’s helmed films in many different genres, and worked with some of the biggest stars of the era. He regards making “Rush” as one of the highlights of his career to date.
“Absolutely, and I’m not just saying that,” he told RACER. “It’s one of my favorite experiences. A little like Apollo 13.’ I’m not a very adventurous person, but these things that get me to go under water, or go in zero G airplanes, or be in fires like Backdraft,’ or hang around journalists like The Paper,’ or politicians like Frost/Nixon,’ they satisfy my curiosity.
“Even though I’m not a car guy, I dig that world; it’s fascinating, and I’ve had a great couple of years delving into it and understanding it. I’m very proud of the work. The collaborations have been great, and I really hope I get to work with Daniel [Bruhl] again. I’m already going to work with Chris [Hemsworth] again on my next movie. I hope Peter Morgan and I make other films down the road because I think we have a good creative chemistry.
“And I think I’ve surprised people with it. It’s not an American movie it’s sexier because the world is sexier, and I think people are surprised that I could get that on screen in a way that wasn’t self-conscious or weird or something; it felt organic. I like surprising peopleMy whole career I’ve tried to surprise people.”
Howard says that his lack of knowledge of motorsport was actually a plus, and he relied heavily on the fact that his Anglo-German crew included many folk who had at least some knowledge.
“I think it was great that we made the movie in a world that understood Formula 1, and I think in some ways it was kind of useful that the director didn’t. I was curious about it, and I was always asking questions and exploring and making discoveries, and sometimes I was on the brink of making bone-headed mistakes.
“But I was also trying to create an environment where people were speaking up. Some sort of critiques I could accept, others I couldn’t, but I was at least the filter. I hope the film, in a way, benefits in that it almost works as a little bit of an anthropological study, because it was satisfying my curiosity, and I was sharing what I was learning. Had I been somebody who’d been around the sport for 30 years, I might be inclined to overlook some things.”
What matters most to Howard is that “Rush” is a great story, one that can be enjoyed not just by race fans, but by people who have no interest in motorsport.
“Human drama is what drives the medium of movies,” he says. “Next is being able to transport people either to a place or a time, or inside the mind of the characters, so they can begin to relate to some kind of human experience. Fantasy is even rooted in that, it just builds upon those basic foundations.
“This story is full of that. It’s a very modern version of that, and it comes from an unexpected direction. It’s very human, it’s complex, it’s engrossing, and it’s an opportunity to transport people to a world that they don’t know much about at all, but it’s fascinating and energetic and visual. And for people who do know the story, it’s a bit of nostalgia.
“To me, this was a story of achievement on your own terms, the way rivalry fuels it. But I also thought it was a maturation story. Not boys to men, but young, single-minded myopic aggressive males into men with some scars, and some wisdom, and some insight.”
As has been noted by most observers, “Rush” doesn’t religiously follow the true timeline of Hunt and Lauda’s stories, and there are fictional twists to the story. Having completed a string of projects based on real characters, Howard understands that there’s a fine line between literal accuracy and making a film that works. The important thing is that the story resonates with movie-goers.
“I found that there are different reasons to use a true story as a jumping off place. You have to understand that in A Beautiful Mind,’ the broad strokes were remarkable, and it gave it balance and significance to recognize that this had really happened. You get enough of those details right so that you can own that. But the purpose of it was actually to offer insight into mental illness, and to cinematically trick the audience into understanding what it might feel like to be going through that disease, and coping with it. It wasn’t to re-enact John Nash’s life.
“Frost/Nixon’ was a kind of a snapshot, but it was as much to define that moment and this clash between these two men, and the anatomy of an unlikely takedown than it was to do a beat for beat of the interviews.
“Apollo 13,’ Cinderella Man’ and Rush’ are much more committed to trying to pack in as many facts as possible, because those stories are fact is stranger than fiction,’ that’s what they really are. It’s astonishing what happened. The only frustration is the stuff that you have to leave out and the stuff you have to condense.”
It’s going to be all too easy to define “Rush” as a sports movie or even more rigidly as a racing movie, but Howard hopes that its appeal stretches far beyond those narrow boundaries.
“I don’t have a hell of a lot of perspective but I think there’s more to it than that, and people are telling us there is, so I hope that become the consensus. But by the same token, Cinderella Man’ is a movie that’s beginning to climb up the ranks when people list boxing movies; suddenly it’s now showing up in the top five, so I get a sense of gratification from that. If people feel that Rush’ is a good example of what racing can mean on screen, that would be a great start I’ll be proud of that.”
The September issue of RACER magazine, on sale now, focuses on racing in the movies, past and present, including a behind-scenes looks at the making of “Rush,” “Grand Prix,” “Le Mans” and more. To subscribe now, click here, or to learn where to buy RACER in your area, click here. You can also purchase single copies directly at RacerMerch.com.