RUSH (Universal-2013); Grand Prix ((Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer-1966)
During my teens and early adulthood I followed the Gran Prix Formula One racing scene as the best race car drivers in the world raced on that circuit. I was a Jim Clark fan and I thought he was the best driver during his time. A Formula One champion, Clark was also an Indy 500 winner and his death was significant in that the world had lost another great driver of a time much different than today. In the movie RUSH, set in 1976, Clark had been dead from a crash for over seven years, a stretch of time that I could tell you who won which race, where the races in Formula One were staged, and who had the best and fastest cars. As mentioned in Ron Howard’s RUSH (2013), at the beginning race of the 1976 season, of the 25 drivers to start that first race, two would be killed by the end of season. That was normal for F 1. Driving a F 1 car was as dangerous a job you could have, ranking up there with being an astronaut. Like riding on a bomb waiting to exploded as referred to in the movie, it took a special man to guide the bomb down the track, turn after turn, all in accordance with a precise skill of hand, eye, and foot coordination. Jim Clark was just one of the great drivers not to live to an old age, and like the others that raced in this division of racing, the thought of death was always present, like being a soldier in a war that was asked to lead the charge.
John Frankenheimer directed Grand Prix (MGM 1966) and it was, at the time, the most exciting movie I had ever viewed. Attending a screening here in OKC, the wide screen production was an event of historical significance worldwide. In a future viewing forty-five years later from that first viewing, Grand Prix presents itself as a fully encapsulated microcosmic look of the time and period of 1965 Formula One racing spectacle and pageantry. With appearances of many of the drivers of the era, along with real race footage interwoven with make believe shots, Grand Prix holds the test of time, providing a film still fresh and beautiful as the day it opened in the theaters almost a half a century ago. Not as personal a movie as RUSH, the epic Grand Prix is still the greatest film on auto racing ever made, and also the most visually handsome of any. It puts you in the seat of an F 1 car and never relents in the spine tingling exhilaration of power of the experience mixing with the terror of a sudden catastrophe. RUSH, on the other had, gets into the soul of two men in their pursuit of greatness in F 1 and their drive to better the other.
The better acted movie, RUSH gives its’ two protagonists enough differences to try to make you pick one over the other, yet allowing both to have good and not go good attributes in the way they live their lives. Ron Howard is as fine a director as Frankenheimer, but RUSH lacks in the racing scenes where Grand Prix excels. Real footage always, well usually, bests make believe, and in this comparison, RUSH comes in second place. One significant difference that gives RUSH a positive advantage over Grand Prix is the finality of the accident. Not that the accidents shown in RUSH are better shot or more exciting, the gory frames that you are required to view are horrific in nature, realistic to the point of nausea. A driver’s body, minus his head, sitting in a wrecked F 1 race car; a driver burning in race car while trying to free himself; and another driver being loaded into a meat wagon with injuries that you really don’t want to look at. I will give Ron Howard credit that he didn’t prolong the savagery, cutting away in enough time to allow the viewer get away from such nastiness, but leaving a lot to ponder in the future. I liked RUSH very much. A movie I will see again, many times, to enjoy the acting skills of the various “faces” of the beautiful people, including Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda, Olivia Wilde as Suzy Miller and Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene Lauda. Director Howard tries to get us into the head of the Hunt and Lauda, how they tick, how they as race car drivers, take the sport as individuals who were on different time clocks. Fascinating work by Howard and outstanding performances by Hemsworth and Bruhl. As for Garner and the rest of the cast of Grand Prix, routine and workmanlike performances, yet putting those actors into real race cars and having them in truth, drive the F 1 race tracks, you cannot take away from their bravery.
The race car genre in movies is littered with some good, some not so good, and some really bad. In my book, there is noting worse than a bad race car movie. Both Grand Prix and RUSH are outstanding movies. Two movies on the same track ten years apart, but in reality, not one second apart in taking the checked flag.
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