Ron Howard's 'Rush' could shift into high gear this Oscar season

Posted by · 4:11 pm · September 3rd, 2013

Ron Howard’s “Rush” has occupied some prime real estate throughout our Contenders section for a number of weeks. Lots of “but racing movies don’t register” and “it looks too commercial” or whatever greeted the suggestion that it could be an Oscar player. There’s been a reason we’ve had a lot of faith in it: people love this movie. And today, Variety’s Peter Debruge has posted a cartwheel-turning rave up one side and down the other.

I caught the film just before the Telluride Film Festival and had high hopes. I’ve been hearing stellar things about this one for a while now, particularly Daniel Brühl’s performance. So maybe expectation was too high, but it felt like something was missing for me. Peter Morgan’s script awkwardly makes its way through a story of rivalry and friendship between Formula One racing stars Niki Lauda (Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and it doesn’t quite hit the high marks it apparently thinks it hits. But it’s not like the film is a big miss or anything. There’s a lot to appreciate here and I think it will continue to gather fans, perhaps on the way to major Oscar recognition.

Starting with Brühl, he completely inhabits the prickly, temperamental, cocky Lauda. From voice to visage, Brühl becomes the guy. When tragedy strikes Lauda (it’s no spoiler that he sustained considerable burns and scarring following a crash in 1976), Brühl keeps the character’s spirit alive in surprising ways. He’s virtually a co-lead in the film, splitting the overbearing narration with Hemsworth, but Universal will set him up with a Best Supporting Actor push, and I think he’ll get there.

Hemsworth makes so much of his movie star moxie that he’s a delight to watch, but performance-wise, the film really is dominated by Brühl. And the whole enterprise doesn’t feel like anything Howard has given us before, a filmmaking rush (no pun intended) from start to finish, and it’s there that the film truly sings: below the line.

Starting at the top with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, the film is shot with a vengeance. Along with Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill’s film editing, as well as the hard work of the visual effects artists, Mantle’s sleek work at the camera puts you right behind the wheel, feeling every ounce of excitement and terror Lauda and Hunt experience around the track.

Additionally, the film’s aural elements are outstanding. Nominations for sound editing and sound mixing are definitely on the table, while Hans Zimmer’s score — quite different from what he offers on “12 Years a Slave” this year — is a gripping pulse-pounder.

So there are a lot of shots at recognition here. I could see it going either way, though: success throughout the categories or merely a crafts hog. We’ll see how it lands at Toronto next week, as well as how it fares at the box office against adult fare like “Prisoners” and “Enough Said.” Universal also has “Lone Survivor” coming on the back end of the year, which is very much in play for similar awards, too. But people are really responding to “Rush” in ways I’m even a little surprised by after having finally seen it. So keep an eye on it throughout the season: it could have the checkered flag in its sights.

“Rush” will screen at the Toronto Film Festival next week. Keep an eye out for HitFix’s coverage. It arrives in theaters on Sept. 27.

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