Movie reviews: Rush

“Happiness is the enemy,” says Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) during Rush (15A), and you fear that Ron Howard’s movie about the rivalry between 1970s Formula 1 stars Lauda and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is going to descend into simplistic tale of Hunt’s cavalier flair triumphing over Lauda’s dour efficiency.

Set for the most part in 1976, the movie opens some years earlier, when we meet the feckless, womanising Hunt, a man who lives his personal live with all the death-defying abandon with which he pilots his Formula 3 cars.

Lauda, by contrast, takes to motor-racing because he isn’t capable of doing anything else well; he adopts a rigidly professional approach, playing the percentages and the angles and taking no unnecessary chances. Three years later, with their rivalry at a white-hot intensity, the pair are neck-and-neck at the top of the Formula 1 leader board when tragedy strikes. It’s a pulsating tale, not least because the cars — gloriously ramshackle by today’s standards, and described at one point as ‘bombs on wheels’ — are capable of 170 mph, a fact driven home by Anthony Dod Mantle’s superbly kinetic cinematography. Where the film truly succeeds is away from the racetrack, when Ron Howard explores the reasons why the rivals are equally brilliant in their individually idiosyncratic ways.

Hemsworth plays Hunt as a Formula 1 version of Jim Morrison, arrogant and charismatic, driving like a maniac in a vain bid to outrun his demons. Lauda is arguably the more fascinating character, his ruthless dedication a mania in itself, although Brühl’s performance invests Lauda’s almost robotic relentlessness with a poignantly human frailty. Even if, as is the case with this writer, you have zero interest in Formula 1 motor-racing, Rush is a gripping story of life lived on the very brink of death.

White House Down (12A) stars Channing Tatum as Cale, a US Army veteran now serving as a bodyguard in Washington DC. Touring the White House with his young daughter Emily (Joey King), Cale is caught up in a terrorist attack which aims to kidnap President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). But Cale quickly realises that capturing the president is only one part of the terrorists’ plan: their ambition is to bring the US to its knees. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow) is no stranger to the disaster movie, in which plucky individuals band together to overcome apparently insurmountable odds, and he pulls out all the stops here, blowing up Capitol buildings and orchestrating helicopter gunship attacks on the White House. Meanwhile, the amiable Channing Tatum puts in a bid for Most Perfect American Man Ever: humble, indestructible, patriotic, skilled in virtually every weapon, and a thoughtful father besides. Had Emmerich stolen a smidge of irony from the Die Hard movies along with the bedraggled white vest Tatum wears for most of the movie, White House Down might well have been diverting hokum, but it very quickly becomes spectacle for its own sake, with twist piled upon nonsensical twist and Cale bouncing from one impossible scenario to another. Quite why Emmerich felt the need to cast a bevy of excellent character actors in the supporting roles — Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins and James Woods among them — is a question that remains unanswered.

Every movie fan is familiar with the deep, booming voice at the start of a particular kind of movie trailer, which opens with the words “In a world where …”. Written and directed by Lake Bell, In A World … (15A) takes for its premise the idea that the voiceover artist who made that phrase his own has died, opening up opportunities for younger talent. One such talent is Carol (Lake Bell), but the voice-over world is dominated by men; worse, one of those men is her father, Sam (Fred Melamad), while another is her lover, Gustav (Ken Marino). Can Carol defeat the patriarchy and open up a new chapter in voiceover history? Bell is hugely likeable in this quirky comedy, playing a self-conscious young woman whose career prospects are hedged in by sexism, the family ties that bind, and a fear of appearing unfeminine if she displays the same ambition as her male rivals. When she is off-screen the movie tends to lapse into sitcom, but overall it’s an impressive feature debut from the multi-talented Bell.

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