September 26, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Rush, By Ron Howard

Rush is the last feature by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man...) which tries (succeedingly) to recreate an evocation of the years of glory of Formula 1 competition. Not sure if people who don't follow F1 might like it, though.

The plot. Based on a true story, the film follows the rivalry between  two 1970's  F1 drivers, Niki Lauda and James Hunt, from their beginning till the famous and exciting 1976 season.

Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mentle
Camera:Arri Alexa Plus, Arri Studio, Canon Eos C300, IndiCam GS2K
Lenses: Bausch & Lomb Super Baltar
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Film Stock: -

Anthony Dod Mentle (Slumdog Millionaire, Antichrist, Trance) was the man in charge of the cinematography of Rush. It was its first collaboration with Ron Howard thus he managed to convince the director to shoot his first feature in digital. The British cinematographer made a great job in achieving to enhance the story visually by the camera angles used, sizes of shots, camera movements and lens used along with the constant presence of flares.

The 70's look of the film is the first characteristic of Rush cinematography the audience notice since the very first sequence. But it's a kind of false one because there's no downgraded, saturated and predictable look typical of the seventies. The colour palette used is brilliant; colours are really vivid and sometimes they pop up in the shot like during the scenes of rainy Grand Prix or the one of the rendez-vous between Hunt and Suzy, where the rest of colours is desaturated or fall into grey due to light. He achieved this look also thanks to the heavy presence of a really organic grain (which is something I really love to see).

Apart from a brilliant job in post production, this was the result of combining  one of the best digital camera on the market, the Arri Alexa Plus, with its latitude and resolution, with  very old lenses like the 60's Bausch & Lomb lenses, which added aberrations and beautiful flares to the image. Dod Mentle also used a Soft Grad filter to further soften the image, producing a very soft and kind of dirty look which remind us of a 70's film stock. The soft filter anyway, produced blurred out of focus highlights (typical with this kind of filters) which sometimes I found a bit distracting.

The use of camera is amazing. It get us into the action with close ups or extreme close ups of the two rivals and the cars, where the camera is placed practically everywhere to show us every single detail important to the story: the cockpit, the silencer, the motor itself...
Dod Montle himself wore a burn suit and stepped into Niki Lauda burning car (whose accident was recreated in all details following the only footage available of the crash) to shoot subjective point of view trough the flames, sitting the audience with Lauda.

Another remarkable shot is delivered with the use of the IndiCam, a mini HD camera, that is placed inside the helmet Lauda try to wear while he is recovering in the hospital after the crash. Once again we adopt Lauda's point of view and we really pull the helmet despite the bounds and suffer with him.

Every now and then Dutch tilt is used: the camera angle is deliberately slanted on one side which adds a dramatic effect and suits well the unease, desperation and even the inner agitation hidden behind the apparent calm of the two characters.

Light has a natural feel throughout the whole film; light sources are always justified but  a bit  exaggerated to create more contrast and lots of flares that better suit the story, with lots of situations on the edge,  and the characters, always on the spotlight and pushing to the limit. The result is visually pleasant.

To shoot the Grand Prix scenes, 7 to 10 Arri cameras were used plus lots of IndiCams mounted everywhere on the car to cover every angle even subjective shots at 300Kmph; lots of CGI was employed though, for crashes, flips and recreation of circuits. Despite of that (no, I'm not very fond of today digital tricks) Rush is a very entertaining film, very well directed by Ron Howard, in which the director and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mentle, along with the rest of the crew, managed to transmit the 1970`s Formula 1 atmosphere and the adrenalin characters feel.

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