Rush

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The most interesting thing about Rush is that it avoids doing what you would expect every other film to do with its lead characters – it doesn’t take sides. Rush is the story of the rivalry between James Hunt, the prototypical Formula 1 playboy, and Niki Lauda who, while Austrian, could be considered the template for the stereotype of the hardworking German in search of precision and perfection. These two faced off over the course of the 1976 F1 World Championship, a season notable for a number of fatalities and horrific injuries.

The typical way to tell this story would be for Lauda to be presented as the bad guy. He was the incumbent world champion, he was cold, blunt, brusque. Hunt, on the other hand, was naturally skilled but didn’t care for preparation, relying on his wits. He was handsome, charming, a crowd-pleaser. I guess what prevented that narrative was the accident that happened partway through the season in which Lauda was almost killed, receiving terrible burns across his face, leaving him disfigured. Casting him as the bad guy would be harsh to say the least.

Instead, the film challenges the audience to make up their own minds, which is refreshing from a mainstream venture. It’s an interesting challenge. I have always sided with the guys with the natural talent, and the guys who show their emotions – people like Seve Ballesteros – over those who practice, practice, practice and keep their emotions inside – Tiger Woods for example – but Rush seeks to open up that more mechanical persona and turn it into something more human.

Overall, the film is enjoyable, solid mainstream fair, drawing engaging characters and relationships (though reputedly playing fast and loose with Hunt and Lauda’s off-track friendship), and I only really found it lacking in the driving sequences, which isn’t as big a miss as it sounds. The heart and soul of the film is in the characters, and so the fact that the on-track scenes don’t have you on the edge of your seat isn’t crippling but it’s certainly a disappointment.

B

Film length: 2hrs 3 mins – Feels like: 1hr 45mins

Lovelace

Amanda Seyfried stars as Deep Throat, the anonymous source behind the Watergate scandal.

Amanda Seyfried stars as Deep Throat, the anonymous source behind the Watergate scandal.

The problem with many biopics is that the stories they are trying to tell don’t tend to fit in appropriately with traditional cinematic narrative conventions. This means that a lot of them end up essentially being a lot of recreations of the events that occurred without ever really getting under the skin of the characters or asking why the events came to pass. Lovelace is one such film.

Linda Lovelace, for those not in the know, was the star of the infamous pornographic film Deep Throat in the early 1970s, having been bullied and coerced into making it. The film was made for a pittance and made millions of dollars at the box office while Lovelace was paid just $1000 for her starring role.

The film’s opening is quite disarming as Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried – Lovelace was a screen-name used for the film) meets the charming Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), eventually to be her husband, and rushes through a whirlwind romance and everything seems to be coming up puppydogs and icecream. When Chuck suffers money problems he tries to convince some porn film-making friends that Boreman should star in their next production. They’re unconvinced until he shows them a film of her (apparently) unique talents. Linda’s views on the job opportunity are not requested.

We then cut forward to the shoot and Boreman shows little to no reluctance in fulfilling her role until, that is, the film performs the editing equivalent of a double take that should probably be accompanied by a record scratch sound effect and we shoot back in time to have the abuse Boreman has been subject to revealed to us.

I’m not sure of the point of this narrative technique. It seems that the film-makers think they are pulling the rug out from under us, as though we in the audience were all sat there safe in the knowledge that a career in pornography is much akin to a secretarial role but NO – this woman, and many like her, are abused and coerced into making the films. Ultimately, all this trick serves to do is stall the narrative as we return to scenes we’ve previously seen, with the added twist of domestic violence.

At no point do we actually get to understand these people. Traynor is an abuser who sees his woman as a way to make money, be it through her starring role or through pimping her out on the back of her reputation, and that’s just the way he is. There is no attempt to cast him in anything but this one dimensional view.

Equally, Boreman is a woman who has little to no agency in her story, seemingly happy (or unhappy) to follow whatever course is laid out for her, and even her eventual escape from her role is thanks to Deep Throat’s producer protecting her from her husband. We never learn who she is as a woman or what makes her tick. The most interesting part of her journey, and perhaps the most courageous, is her reinvention as a ‘normal’ wife and mother but this is left tacked on at the end.

Ultimately you come away from the film feeling like you’ve seen the “what”, but you’ve not been enlightened as to the “who”, the “how” or the “why”, beyond some very basic answers.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Sharon Stone is wasted in the role of Boreman’s mother, trying to protect her daughter from her own fate (or worse), or losing much of her life due to early motherhood. Stone’s casting seems like a stunt – a woman once renowned for the sex appeal and skin she brought to the screen now portraying a woman railing against exactly that – and the interesting stuff is pushed to the side. Much like the rest of the film.

D

Film length: 1hr 32 minutes – Feels like: 1hr 50 minutes

Behind The Candelabra

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Is this Steven Soderbergh’s last movie? I hope not, but if it is, it’s a brilliant way to go out.

I knew nothing of Liberace before this film, aside from the extravagant dress sense, that he played piano, and that he was gay. Michael Douglas brings all of that to life, and more. Liberace spent his life moving from one young man to the next while remaining the middle-aged woman’s entertainer of choice (so it seems). He was, at one point, the world’s best paid musical star, presumably being to the 70s what Elvis was to the 50s, the Beatles in the 60s, and Michael Jackson in the 80s. Behind the Candelabra tells the story of his (supposedly) most significant relationship, with a young wannabe veterinarian, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).

The film is very funny (with special credit going to Rob Lowe as a plastic surgeon), though not a comedy, and in many ways is as sweet and innocent as Damon’s Thorson is. Reportedly considered too gay for US cinema (it was produced by cable TV network HBO), the charge is ridiculous, especially when you consider that it is aimed predominantly at an art house audience who are far less likely to be turned off by the subject matter than the mainstream crowd.

Too gay? Come on...

Too gay? Come on…

Anyway, back to the film. It’s great fun and rarely lags. The only problem I felt was that it never fully delved into Scott’s emotional investment in Liberace and I never truly felt the two were in love, and as such the emotional kickers that arrive at towards the end of the film never truly land. But it’s still fabulously designed and fabulously entertaining. Douglas’ performance is a masterpiece and is so far away from anything you’ve ever seen him do before, it’s such a shame that he won’t be able to collect a little gold statue next February.

B+
Length – 1hr 58mins – Feels – 1hr 45 mins