“The Ron Howard Enigma”, a piece over on The Dissolve, does a fantastic job of deconstructing the (non) tendencies of America’s most middlebrow director. And it serves as a critical framework in understanding some of the narrative and visual flourishes that populate Ron Howard’s latest film, Rush. As discussed by The Dissolve’s piece, the sense that Howard is a craftsman at heart is a bit of a pointed argument when considering all the other formally astute directors working in the industry. Could one really make an argument that Howard’s directorial chops come close to measuring up to the output of true workhorses - the likes of formal and technical purists likes David Fincher or Paul Thomas Anderson? Even the equally middlebrow Ang Lee shows greater handling in framing and compositions. No, Howard’s Rush is an illustration of competence, with its bland but logically put-together race sequences and equally inoffensive dramatic pitches, but never does it generate a sense of awe.
Of course, generating awe ought not to be Howard’s primary goal. He takes Peter Morgan’s screenplay and brings it to life, providing a framework to understand the rivalry between two Formula 1 drivers. The rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is marked less by competitive instincts (though that certainly comes into play) but rather a fundamental difference in ideologies. The free-wheeling antics of Hunt collide with the exacting precision of Lauda’s non-personality. This serves as an interesting commentary on Howard’s own directorial sensibility, wherein the director looks to side with Lauda’s formal aptitude and anti-charisma overall. But this would be a grave miscalculation (or wish-fulfillment) on Howard’s part to imply that there’s any bearing between his own technical proficiency and that of Lauda’s, though it’s increasingly clear as Rush moves along that Howard sees a piece of himself in Lauda’s plights to the point that he glosses over much of what makes Hunt a charismatic rival.
Part and parcel to Rush’s success is Brühl’s take on the Austrian racer. His narrative arc sees him as the thinking-mans success story, someone so invested in catapulting himself to success by any means necessary and unafraid to make enemies along the way. So pretty much the Walter White of the Formula-1 community. The success of Rush is largely Brühl’s to take, whose smarminess evolves to equal parts stubbornness and poignancy. The remainder of the picture is a run of the mill sports film that lacks the formal nuance of say, Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike or the bold revisionism of something like Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan or The Wrestler. Like mentioned in The Dissolve piece, very few people (if any at all) have gone on clamoring in anticipation for a Ron Howard film. Rush hardly disproves the fact, though its competencies make it difficult to find completely disposable. Effectively making Rush like every other Ron Howard film.