One of the problems with biopics that purport to cover the entire life of a famous or notable person is the aging issue. People change over time, sure, but how they age, how they look as kids, as young adults, as old people, is something you either have to address using make-up or other visual trickery or by casting different people to play the character at different stages in life. Both approaches have the appeal, and both also have major drawbacks. It’s a decision every filmmaker doing a birth-to-death biopic has to address at some point.
That’s only one reason that I prefer films like “Rush” that take an interesting moment or a compelling story from someone’s life story and tell that as a movie, so there is a finite period of time you’re dealing with and the actor you hire can focus on building a real performance, not just juggling wigs and prosthetics. In “Rush,” the story being told covers a short, intense period of time in which James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and rival Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) battled for the F1 world champion title, and that story was what drew Peter Morgan in as a writer. I’m sure they could have made a movie about either man and then just played this out as part of that larger story, but why? By keeping the focus fairly tight, “Rush” really tells you everything you need to know about either of the men. There’s no way a film that addressed more of their lives chronologically could pay off in the same ways “Rush” does by putting both characters under the microscope during this particular moment of their careers.
Chris Hemsworth approaches the role of James Hunt with a combination of earned entitlement and cheerful obliviousness. He expects things to work out for him simply because he’s James Hunt, and things always have worked out for him. He’s not a jerk about it, and he doesn’t gloat about his success. It’s just that he’s led a charmed life, so why wouldn’t he expect that to continue indefinitely? When you see Hunt and Lauda together, they are a study in contrasts, and one of the most interesting things about the film is how much both men seem to not only be aware of how they look, but what those looks mean. Hunt knows that he can sleep with pretty much anymore, and he plays that in every conversation the character has. Lauda, on the other hand, knows he looks like a creep, so he has no reason to try to pretend to by anything else. Lauda just embraces it, and he sees no reason at all to try to curry favor with anyone. He’d rather be rejected for his behavior than his face, so he makes his personality that much bigger and more off-putting.
I suspect Hemsworth will be able to show up as Thor in many more films over the years, but that he will also end up being a career of substance, thanks to the launching pad he got from “Star Trek” and the Marvel movies. It was a pretty bold move of Howard to cast Hemsworth in the film, but it paid off, and talking to him about his work here, Hemsworth still seems very grounded and matter of fact, not vain at all. It’s damn fine work in a damn fine film.
“Rush” opens on September 20, 2013.