Katterly, Texas, 1975. Veteran narcotics cop Jim Raynor (Jason Patric) recruits Kristen Cates (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Reporting only to police chief Dodd (Sam Elliott) they are to go undercover, posing as junkies, in order to find evidence against drug dealers. With public pressure mounting to "do something" about the drugs problem, they are specifically ordered to go after local crimelord Gaines (Gregg Allman). Unfortunately for them, once they've made their way into the local drug culture, it's very hard to get out again.
Rush is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Kim Wozencraft, which caused some attention when it was published. (It's now out of print.) It's not a good book: sensationalist and so badly written that I didn't finish it. However, there's a solid plot in there, and this film version has quite a lot going for it, despite its flaws. There's an "all characters and incidents are fictitious" disclaimer at the end of the film, which fictionalises the already-partly-fictionalised book even further. Pete Dexter's script deserves a lot of credit in shaping this material into a coherent narrative.
Lili Fini Zanuck has made more of an impact as a producer (along with husband Richard D. Zanuck, who gets sole producer credit here), winning an Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy. Rush is her only feature film directorial credit. That's a pity, because she shows genuine confidence and ability here, opening the film with a long Steadicam shot establishing Gaines and his world. It's to her and British DP Kenneth MacMillan's credit that they avoid the major clichés of this type of film: they don't overemphasise the period setting and there's no grainy handheld verité camerawork, even if this does have the effect of making everything and everyone a little too clean and healthy-looking. Eric Clapton's electric-guitar-dominated score (which includes the hit single "Tears in Heaven") is another plus, as is a fine selection of rock and blues numbers on the soundtrack.
Jason Patric is an actor whose reputation isn't upheld by some of his choices of films, but this is one of his better performances. He's very good as a dedicated cop prepared to go to any lengths – including shooting up himself – to bring drug-dealers to justice. This is more familiar territory for Jennifer Jason Leigh, however; good as she is, you can't escape a sense of having been here before. The chemistry between the two is a little lacking: they're more convincing as colleagues than as lovers, which means the ending has less impact than it should. The rest of the cast are solid, starting with Sam Elliott as the ex-undercover man who is so understanding of Kristen's plight because he's been there himself. There are solid turns from Max Perlich, and in a one scene role, William Sadler. Zanuck makes intelligent use of Gregg Allman (vocalist and keyboards player with the Allman Brothers Band, and ex-husband of Cher) as an imposing, virtually silent presence – he has only three lines of dialogue in the entire film.
The film has its slow spots, and it may be too talky for some. (Guns are fired, but this is hardly an action movie.) Several close-ups of drug preparation and shooting up make me wonder how this film ever got round the BBFC's "instructional drug usage" taboo, but then as now Rush is uncut. There are moments that don't quite ring true, but overall this is a solid, well-made movie worthy of your attention.
Rush is presented in its correct ratio of 1.85:1, in an anamorphic transfer. And a very good one it is too, sharp and colourful with strong blacks and a minimum of artefacting – much of it, strangely enough, affecting the end credits.
Dolby SR on cinema release, the soundtrack has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1. There are some directional effects, but for the most part the surrounds are used for the music score, particularly noticeably during the trip scene scored to Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower". The subwoofer is used to add impact to gunshots and other effects, and fills in the basslines of the many songs on the soundtrack. There are four foreign-language dubs in Dolby Surround, which needless to say are less effective, and there are a plethora of subtitle options.
There's only the trailer, which is 1.85:1 anamorphic and in mono (English only), running 2:15. It's clearly trying to sell the film as more of an action thriller than it actually is. There are sixteen chapter stops, which is a little skimpy for a two-hour film. The menus – available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish – are static.
Rush is a worthwhile film but didn't do especially well at the box office and has been somewhat neglected as a result. It's released on a standard MGM back-catalogue disc, with good picture and sound. I doubt this film will ever get a special edition any time soon, so this DVD is worth getting, especially as it can be found quite cheaply.