Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

16 November 2013

Car-races, Oscar-races, and the Problems of the Bio-pic

Jordan and I saw Ron Howard's Rush yesterday.

I had heard chatter about Daniel Brühl's performance making an appearance in the Supporting Actor category, and so I figured I'd check it out. Also, I really do like Chris Hemsworth. I am a fan of Thor (haven't seen #2 yet), and I liked him in Snow White and the Huntsman.

I do sort of have to admit that I find it difficult to keep Chris Hemsworth, Charlie Hunnam, and Garrett Hedlund differentiated in my mind. I mean, I know they are different people, but I have trouble.

This is the German Poster.
(The most interesting version.)
Rush is based on a true story: the real-life rivalry between Formula One drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt. You can read the plot of the film on Lauda's Wikipedia page, which is surprisingly extensive. True stories are difficult to film, of course – writers feel as though they need to stick to the truth as much as possible, and yet they also feel that they need to make a kind of sense of things. The truth, of course, rarely makes sense, and so biopics so often have obvious explanations to the very difficult problems of life (Ray is an excellent example of this) or attempt to find meaning in events that have no meaning.

And so Rush is exciting whenever it is interested in car-racing. When, instead, it is interested in sentiment, it lags (and lags a lot). James Hunt, for example, is married in the movie for about five minutes total. The film uses his wife only as a marker of Hunt's own life: when he's doing well, the couple is happy; when he's doing badly, they fight. If this is rather sexist, it is even more notable for being boring. One-dimensional characters are not interesting no matter what their genders are.

The rivalry between the two men is an interesting one, but Howard jumps back and forth between their perspectives. Do we root for Hunt? Do we root for Lauda? I rooted for both at various times (I think this was the goal), but the constant narrative switching was very frustrating. Howard also continually announces when we are in history in extremely clunky ways. January 1976, we read on a sign just moments before a news announcer tells the camera And here we are in January 1976. Thanks. We get it. At one point Jordan leaned over and whispered to me: I think that shot of ice melting on the tire was supposed to tell us it's hot in Brasil in the Summer. Yeah. I bet it is.

I don't think much of Brühl's Oscar chances, either. He is an excellent actor (Inglourious Basterds, Good Bye, Lenin!), but Rush doesn't have much going for it except for the cars, and Brühl spends most of the movie irritating everyone in sight, even if he is eventually a rather likable character. So, I won't be holding my breath, but he may eke out a nomination after all.

If you're thinking of seeing the movie, though, go ahead and skip it. This is for fans of Formula One racing only.