MOVIES about sporting heroes often turn into sepia-tinged fables suitable for school classrooms, but I don’t think you’ll see Rush on the curriculum any time soon.
Director: Ron Howard
Running time: 123 minutes
* * * *
“The name’s Hunt. James Hunt,” says Chris Hemsworth, arriving at a hospital emergency room bleeding from his head and abdomen. Minutes later, he’s beguiled his nurse (Natalie Dormer) into a vigorous activity that puts his new stitches under duress.
There was a James Bond vibe to Hunt, the plush-voiced British F1 champ who swigged champagne before getting behind the wheel, then bedded girls by the bunch afterwards. In 1976, Hunt begged his way onto the McLaren team, and was up against the defending champion Niki Lauda, a dourly methodical Austrian. Lauda is played by Daniel Brühl, perhaps best known internationally as the military movie star in Inglourious Basterds. He’s also terrific.
For non-petrolheads, Scalextric cars whizzing round an endless loop is a Sunday drone, but thankfully Rush’s hairpin plot turns are far more exciting than F1. The races are distinctive, but it’s the clash between Lauda and Hunt’s personalities that fuels the picture.
At times maybe the script strains too hard to impose a dramatic structure on historical events: writer Peter Morgan does love his warring archetypes, and in Rush he pits analytical Germanic worker ant industriousness against English playboy recklessness.
Throughout the film, the two men bait each other – yet presenting Hunt and Lauda as fiercely hostile rivals omits the inconvenient truth that the two men were in reality very good friends who chased girls together and at one point shared a flat. However, it is true that both men had self-belief to burn.
This film is not about clean-limbed heroism but ferocious dedication: Lauda is prickly and determined with a fierce sense of his own value, while Hunt cultivates his image as a swaggering dilettante but is fundamentally just as driven, practising the turns and gear changes of the Monaco circuit on his living room floor. Admittedly, other characters don’t fare so well – was Hunt’s first boss Lord Hesketh really such a luvvy toff, and where do these F1 drivers find such indulgent girlfriends? – but, as in the best sports films, you also learn a lot about the mechanics of F1. Long before the appalling accident at the Nürburgring, we are reminded how flimsy and delicate the cars were. In the 1970s these rockets with seats claimed an average of two lives a year. “It’s just a little coffin, really,” notes Hunt, drily.
Eschewing sentimentality for something tougher and more contentious is not the Hollywood way, but then Rush is not an American film. Instead it’s an Anglo-German production, with Ron Howard hired to replace the film’s first choice, Paul Greengrass. The result is Howard’s best work since Apollo 13. There are few scenes even in Le Mans that are as exhilarating as when Lauda finally lets rip – and when he does he’s not in a Ferrari but in a clapped-out Fiat. An easily engaging film, Rush is well acted and adrenalised by characters you respect. Top gear, indeed.
Sir Billi (U)
“EVERYTHING used to be ‘rare’” rumbles Sean Connery at the start of Sir Billi. “Maybe we used the word so much that we wore it out?” Here’s a word I was in danger of wearing out while watching Sascha and Tessa Hartmann’s computer-animated story. The word is “why”?
Why did Sean Connery sign up for this? Why is a children’s film so keen on smut? Why does Billi spell his name as if educationally challenged? Why does his incontinent gay pet goat (voiced by Alan Cumming) think he’s a dog? Why does this film feel much, much longer than 75 minutes?
And so on. It gives me no pleasure to say that Sir Billi is awful, but although the background artwork of Sir Billi’s Highland home is quite pretty, the character animation is like something doodled on a Nintendo Wii. The storytelling is even more rudimentary, strung together like beads on a necklace, beginning with a beaver on the run from the beaver-hating Scottish government and their enforcer, a villainous copper (Ford Kiernan). Then there’s Sir Billi, a widower vet living in a village peopled by refugees from Sonic The Hedgehog. Plus there’s a river, which nearly drowns the beaver, her abrasive rabbit friend and the goat.
Of course, this is a kids’ film, and they may overlook its lumpy looks and thickheaded storytelling. Like me, they may just be baffled by the mirthless humour, and references to such hot-off-the-presses cultural touchstones as Bond, Singin’ In The Rain and Cabaret. And, unlike the filmmakers, they may also wonder why a beaver cannot swim.
• Showcase, Paisley and Baillieston, from Friday
White House Down (12A)
* * *
You may groan at Roland Emmerich’s self-homage (“This is the part of the White House that was destroyed in the film Independence Day”) but his satisfyingly preposterous action pic, in which terrorists kidnap the US president (Jamie Foxx), has popcorny elan and amusing nods to topicality. Channing Tatum is the blue-collar Joe who teams up with the pres to save democracy.
• On general release from Friday
* * *
This pleasant biopic tells the story of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), the first black player in major league baseball. Harrison Ford has hammy fun as the owner of the team, but the reverential treatment of Robinson makes for a rather generic hero, whose real complexity never gets off first base.
• On selected release from Friday
The Artist And The Model
* * *
An elderly sculptor (Jean Rochefort) and his wife (Claudia Cardinale) hide a young woman (Aida Foch) on the run from Franco’s army. In return, she becomes a model and muse. Fernando Trueba’s pearly monochrome makes nudity, and even Nazis, look dreamy and pretty. There’s less to this than meets the eye, but it’s an engaging dawdle.
• Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday to 19 September
Justin And The Knights Of Valour (PG)
Curiously, this Spanish tale of knights and wizards is the second starry-voiced, animated offering to children this week to feature a character who strongly resembles Sean Connery (this time voiced by James Cosmo). An underwhelming saga, told with the verve of a medieval video game.
• On general release from Friday
Museum Hours (12A)
* * *
The power of art in modern life gets a contemplative spin in Jem Cohen’s intriguing portrait of a museum attendant (Bobby Sommer) who befriends a visitor (Mary Margaret O’Hara). A still life with substance.
• Dundee Contemporary Arts, Friday to 19 September; Glasgow Film Theatre, 20-23 September
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