As sleek, swift and finely tuned as a Formula One racing car, Ron Howard's “Rush” seems a lifetime away — both in horsepower and budget — from the Oklahoma-born director's first feature film, 1977's rowdy, revving, car-chase indie, “Grand Theft Auto.”
Since those early days when he was transitioning from Opie (“The Andy Griffith Show”) to Richie (“Happy Days”) to Steve (“American Graffiti”) and into one of his generation's most accomplished and respected filmmakers, Howard has circled the track with a steady progression of well-crafted, mainstream studio vehicles — highlighted by a double Oscar win for 2001's “A Beautiful Mind.”
The polite knock against Howard has always been that his movies feel almost too precisely crafted and predictable.
That's generally true of “Rush,” which follows the standard sports biopic progression of its dashing antagonists — 1970s Formula One racing rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda — and puts its cameras at asphalt level (a la “Grand Prix,” “Le Mans,” “Days of Thunder,” “Senna,” etc.) to record the earsplitting, rubber-burning, noxious-fumes sensations of big-time international auto racing.
But, canny master that he is, Howard and his astute screenwriter Peter Morgan (who penned another mano-a-mano epic for Howard in 2008's “Frost/Nixon”) find a perfect balance between the pulse-pounding pandemonium of macho race car culture and the Greek-tragic dichotomy of its two starkly clashing anti-heroes.
In the freewheeling '70s, an extraordinary duel developed between two of Formula One's rising stars: the British playboy swashbuckler Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and the icy, dour, Austrian tactician Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).