The hyper-inflated Rush is a little boy's movie that is being taken strangely seriously. It's about the rivalry between two real-life challengers. One is the long-haired, breezy and studly British Formula One racer James Hunt (played by Chris "Thor" Hemsworth, an actor with charisma for two) and the forbidding Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).
Given the way the role is conceived, Lauda needs a shaven skull and a monocle. Screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Nixon/Frost) never let history get in the way of a story; in real life Hunt and Lauda had been roommates for a time. The two chase each other on tracks around the world: the Cool Britannic who always introduces himself as "Hunt, James Hunt" verses Hun, Snarling Hun.
Over the course of computer-augmented grand prix tracks through the mid 1970s—a miasma of French-cut t-shirts, hot pants and shaggy haircuts with split ends—Hunt drinks, tokes up and shpritzes champagne from crotch level. Hunt marries a model (Olivia Wilde). Meanwhile Lauda has what looks like a marriage of convenience to one Marlene: Alexandra Maria Lara, who works a haunted stare, as if she psychically intuits every crash. The esteemed director Ron Howard (second generation actor, in the business since boyhood) knows the classics. Few expected a rehash of the "be a mensch" scene from The Apartment staged in a hangar full of private jets.
"We're like knights," says a Formula One racer, and to prove that there's a series of shots of helmet visors slamming down. Howard works with avant-garde cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire): the visuals shimmer and waver, as if the camera were having an LSD flashback, emulating '70s pre-flashed, semi-out-of-focus cinematography. Howard breaks up the races into pieces and stares at puddles and weeds; he smuggles the camera into the tiniest spaces on these hurtling machines. We're even placed underneath the flaming pistons of the engines—we cut from it just as Hunt pounds his flaming piston into a stewardess.
Shooting auto racing is a true technical challenge. The rallies flatten out in long lens. Aerial shots don't give a sense of the speed. The advertisement-spangled cars look like rolling billboards. Rush does one thing new—it's startling to see how fast a wreck comes up on the track ahead. But the roar of the engines can't drown out lines like "That wind you feel is me, breathing down your neck."
Rush has previews that make you want to see it—it looks impossibly het-up. By contrast Don Jon's previews—2013's worst—made it look like a must to avoid. The coming attractions rehash Scorsese's Goodfellas editing. Addressing us, a Jersey Guido named Jon played by director/writer Joseph Gordon-Levitt lists his reasons for living: "My boys, my girls, my porn."
At first, Don Jon looks like a mook-opera about a really devoted wanker: an over-consumer of smut. Then the stereotypes turn into comedic archetypes: broad, yes, as when Tony Danza and Gordon-Levitt are seated at the dinner table wearing father-and-son wife-beater undershirts. Glenne Headly has fun as the long-suffering mother, solaced with Chianti and Catholicism. Scarlett Johansson is a manipulative dream girl who considers Jon a fixer-upper. New Jersey lily is a good look for Johansson, seen in spray-painted tight Day Glo colored clothes and with a wad of gum in her succulent mouth.
Don Jon goes fascinatingly sideways; the glorious Julianne Moore turns up as a weepy fellow student at Jon's night school class, a smiling weirdette who pulls our lovably dumb protagonist out of his circle of despair. (Never has the Manic Pixie been so womanly.) What seems like a commonplace protest of objectification of women through ugly porn, tells of other possibilities than just utter abstinence in the service of landing a bit of arm-candy.
The mainstreaming of the porn sensibility—the tease of tits and ass in your face throughout Rush—gets an implicit critique in Don Jon. And it understands what happens in a car wreck, versus the brave faces and old movie afflatus pumping up the action. Real knights—even Don Giovanni himself—fought for something.
123 min.; R
90 min.; R