‘Rush’ to the theater for this film

Movie: Rush; Director: Ron Howard; Studio: Universal Pictures; Rating: R; Flint’s finding: 4 out of 5 stars.

“Rush,” like many of Ron Howard’s films, gets straight to the heart of the matter with a beautiful character study of two men with similar background and drive who couldn’t otherwise be much different than one another in this film based on actual events.

But that’s not to say that fans of Formula 1 racing will be bored to tears.

No, Howard is a master of nuanced style. The film takes place primarily in the year 1976, when tragedy befalls one of racing’s superstars as his car bursts into a ball of 800-plus degrees and chars his face into something resembling a Boris Karloff character during the golden age of Hollywood horror.

I’m not giving anything away; that’s all in the trailer.

Still, the background is all set up in subdued, almost sun-drenched warm tones – bordering at times on sepia. It’s really the 1970s, it feels, and there’s no person better to be than to relive the days than James Hunt. He may currently only be racing in the Formula 3 division but he has the flair and confidence of the big league, a place he’s destined for if he keeps up his driving record.

And there is no better person working today than to bring James Hunt, a real British racer, than Chris Hemsworth. The Australian actor, who seemed to explode on the scene out of nowhere a couple years ago, hasn’t really had a chance yet to show his range or his abilities, and this is a fitting and perfect vehicle to launch him upwards from “Marvel’s The Avengers.” And he needs it, because how many new superhero movies do we need in this oversaturated market?

He’s got the cockiness down so well that the grace he pulls it off with seems almost cocky within itself. But he’s the likeable character. You root for him because you know he’s alive and doing the things we wish we had the nerve to pull off.

Professional racing, Hunt explains, is made up of fools rushing around in circles at fast speeds – and that anyone around him who is seeking “normality” in that is a fool.

On the other hand is Austrian racer Niki Lauda, called a “rat” both for his pointy and buck-toothed appearance and his off-putting conservativism to rules, convention and playing the percentage game. Lauda is played by Spanish-born German actor Daniel Bruhl, who matches Hemsworth’s freewheeling spirit with his intensity and insensitivity to anything that isn’t mathematical or mechanical.

The only movie I know I’ve seen him in was the excellent 2004 “Good Bye, Lenin!” which is highly recommended and he is barely recognizable in this new role where he says that “Happiness is the enemy,” because happiness gives you something to lose which messes with the percentages of a winning outcome.

And that’s what the two characters come down to: a difference in perspective.

Lauda is so intense and rude that the discomfort everyone around him feels, including his own insulted teammates and wife who he married because he supposed he must, seeps from the screen in a cringe-worthy funk. Winning is the only thing he cares about and he was willing to buy in to get his chance. On the other hand, Hunt is so fun and filled with life that he can sway a room toward his way of thinking.

But they both come from wealthy families. Lauda was to be a banker, a businessman, something becoming of his renowned family name. Hunt was to be a doctor, and makes a room laugh when he accepts his Formula 3 racer of the year trophy by saying that he’ll give it to his father so he can pretend it’s a medical degree from Harvard.

Because of the intense focus put on these characters, some background characters are only developed in relative passing, particularly the earlier lover and later wife of Hunt. Also, other competitors seem to be faceless pawns in the story of these two men who apparently overshadowed everything else, even with the glorious backdrop of the high-contrast thunderstorm over Mount Fuji in the beautiful final race.

It may be that Hunt is so well-drawn a character that director Howard wanted to focus more on the characters around Lauda in an attempt to create a more sympathetic character of such a ratty, unlikeable character. But ratty and unlikeable doesn’t mean two-dimensional.

Passion sustains each and it’s just the polish of the vessel that influences audience perceptions.

Go to the theater and hear the throttle of the engines. Extreme close-ups of pumping cylinders and breakneck speed, embodied by authentic Ferrari and McLaren parts and cars, will keep your heart beating just as fast long after the credits roll.

(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday’s Arts &?Entertainment section.)