Ron Howard and Peter Morgan are a pair to draw to — and “Rush” deserves to draw an audience.

Howard has helmed some outstanding movies during the past two decades, including “Frost/Nixon” and “Cinderella Man.” And Morgan wrote “Frost/Nixon,” along with “The Last King of Scotland” and “The Queen.” In “Rush,” the two have created a dual character study that combines drama, sports action and the kind of tension you’d normally associate with a thriller. It’s delivered deftly by an expert cast, and will most likely receive more than one mention when awards season arrives.

What makes the movie even more effective is that it’s based on a true story about the rivalry between two Formula One race drivers and the fact that the ensemble performing it does not involve household names. Although Chris Hemsworth has earned an appreciative audience as Thor and Olivia Wilde will be familiar to many moviegoers, it’s not a “star vehicle” per se.

The setting is the 1976 championship competition between racers James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl, “Inglourious Basterds”). Hunt is an arrogant ladies’ man who parties his way through life, while Lauda is an all-too-serious curmudgeon who has no time for social niceties.

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Neither man is depicted as the “hero” for whom we automatically root. Instead, both are shown as determined racers. Both have flaws. And both are fascinating in the way they pursue their goals and continue to bait each other as the run for the championship continues. Each experiences a series of setbacks. If you’re a racing fan familiar with what transpired in 1976 (and I admit that I had no idea about the outcome of this rivalry), then what happens here will come as no surprise. If you are becoming acquainted with this story for the first time, you’ll be riveted.

The look of the movie and the era are flawless, and the actors who portray real-life characters not only take on their characteristics but also their physical appearance. The racing sequences — and there are many of them — look and sound true to life. At one point, while the racers were revving their engines, I could feel the liquid vibrate in the bottled water I had purchased at the concession stand.

This is one of the first “serious” movies of the fall, the release of which is purposely late in the year because the studio wants voters for a variety of film awards to remember its top-notch quality. It’s a film for those who enjoy sports tales, those who enjoy history and audiences who enjoy character studies.