"Rush" is worth seeing, and that's different. Fact is, racing movies are rarely worth seeing. Soap opera plots, terrible race simulation, and an emphasis on catastrophe make most of them B-movie, bubble gum movies (some of which are funny and entertaining). The only exception before 2013 that this writer can recall was 1965's "Grand Prix," directed by John Frankenheimer. It did have a soap opera plot, but it focused with remarkable effectiveness on a plausible Formula I campaign featuring an aging star's challenge by two much younger and bolder drivers, with much detailed observation of how motor sport teams work. Made in the era before workstation graphics could simulate almost anything perfectly, the film featured extraordinary driving sequences, many of which were driven by the film's stars.
Ron Howard's "Rush" is a better film, not so much for the very effective simulation of actual racing conditions (though it is excellent at that, often far better than "Grand Prix" ever could have been), but for an impressive, well-written, and well-played depiction of the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1978 Formula I campaign. To effectuate the plot, Lauda is portrayed somewhat unfairly (Lauda, a three-time champion, was one of the greats, and is still active as a team manager). But that's fine; this is fiction based on history, not biography. As the fierce Lauda, Daniel Bruhl is marvelous, and manages to be an oddly sympathetic character despite a deadly competitiveness and technomaniac humorlessness that nearly get him killed at the 'Ring. His courtship of Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) is weirdly charming, their strong connection and loyalty a surprise in a sport as notorious as Hollywood is for casual infidelities.
Chris Hemsworth was so right as James Hunt, a driver as vividly in the public eye in his day as Stirling Moss was in his, that I wondered if Hemsworth might be related. Really the last of privately financed drivers (and of course Hunt didn't win his championship that way), he was a throwback to a pre-corporate sponsor era in Formula I racing, a sport considered as much romance as competition, and was fabulously deadly, killing one or two stars every year and injuring many more drivers horribly. It also often killed spectators, sometimes in large numbers.
The story, unlike most racing films, embraces the complications of team, friendship, courtship, and competition in a sport that has its roots in chariot racing in classical times. Howard manages to restrain the "announcer over" style that makes a mess of so many sports movies (they start to sound like NFL highlight films). "Rush" is not at all like that. I enjoyed all of the characters, and have seen the movie twice. The conflict between Lauda and Hunt, in the fabulous milieu of motor racing, which was real and widely reported in 1978, was a great choice, forcing the whole company to attach itself to real things instead of to the usual romantic fantasies about racing.
However, to be honest, "Rush" is a film about a variety of Formula I racing that has entirely vanished. For all this sport's reputation for deadliness, great former drivers like Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, and many others in the FIA, have over the past forty years recreated Formula I. They've done this by making its tracks safe (there used to be trees lining the roadways, and spectators sat unprotected along the edges as well), vastly improving car safety, and finally excluding the ever-dangerous amateurs who used to share in the competition. Despite those changes, the cars are far faster, and the crowds bigger by an order of magnitude. And yet, it has been twenty years since there has been a fatality in Formula I, a record far better than American football. I'm not knocking Howard for making a film about another era, but one shouldn't take his incisive and wonderfully made movie as a depiction of where motor sport is today. The romance of blood, the driver as matador, has faded thankfully into history. Today, millions of people enjoy seeing their heroes drive faster than ever and live to race again next season.