During the many race scenes, which ought to be the most important cinematic moments in a film like this, the takes average two seconds long. I know because I counted them off. In any normal action movie scene loaded with conflict we don’t want to be hyper-aware of minutia — we want to be breathlessly involved. Such hyperkinetic editing is often a hallmark of bad directing (see: Michael Bay), but with someone as seasoned and generous as Ron Howard, we want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He means this psychological movie not to come at you like a rush, ironically.
Howard’s film, based in truth and told in flashback and flash-forward, is a compare and contrast exercise featuring two 1970s Formula One driver rivals, dishy James Hunt, (Chris Hemsworth), and the calculating Austrian Niki Lauda, who the great Daniel Bruhl turns into a love/hate object. We’re meant to not like either of them too much, but know they represent opposing philosophies. Both cheat death, they admit, by racing around tracks, but Hunt believes in courting mortality; live fast, have fun, and leave a beautiful corpse. Lauda is harder to place, though; he has similar death wishes, but keeps protesting that he’s working percentages. It’s the only job he’s good at. The best part of the narrative, which swings like a metronome between the men, is the rich and strange hypocrisies.
The worst part is how obvious it gets. Howard zooms in on a huge spider on the day of a tragic race; after sex he cuts to engine pistons pumping. It courts self-parody, but it’s still guaranteed to please audiences. Rush is ultimately an accomplishment, but it’s also too jumpy; it’s hard to love a film when you keep getting thrown out of situations. The one exception to the rule is a scene where Lauda lyrically meets his wife, and then drives. We’re along for that ride, but the rest just feels rushed.