It's the '60s, and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) has had it up to here with Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) and his fast, flashy car ways. He and cronies such as Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) are chapped, and they want to send a message to the world that Ford isn't just about family cars. They also want to win races and appeal to the younger, baby boomer demographic with Mustangs and the like.
Enter Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a former race car driver turned designer and salesman after a heart condition benches him. Ford hires Shelby to design and race a car that can beat Ferrari in races, mainly the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It's a tall order, and it calls for a crazy guy behind the wheel and calling the shots in Ken Miles (Christian Bale), an English-born rule breaker who can drive a car and instantly know what can be fixed on it to make the damn thing go faster. His lack of convention causes Ford to bristle, Shelby gets in the middle, and we have ourselves a gripping tale about racing technology, volatile friendships and corporate clashes.
If you are going to this film looking for glorious depictions of high stakes auto racing, you will not be disappointed. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) films Ford v Ferrari in a way where you feel every gear shift, every hairpin turn, and every moment where a car can skid off the tracks and cause grave injury. In this sense, the movie is simply at the top of the auto movie genre.
If you are going looking for powerhouse acting, you will not be let down, either. Damon and Bale are otherworldly good as two longtime pals who have no problem punching each other in the face on occasion, but always strain to have each other's backs. Letts and Bernthal do well at showing the corporate side of things, while Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe are good as Miles' wife and kid. Some of the family stuff gets a little cliché, but the performers, especially the amazing Jupe, elevate the material.
There's a lot of car talk, and credit goes to writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller for always keeping it in a realm where you feel like you are learning without getting bored or overwhelmed. I walked out of this movie knowing a little more about hot brakes and the ways in which they can kill a driver's chances to win a race. The class is long, mind you, at over two-and-a-half hours.
Apart from some acting categories, this one is going to be in awards contention for sound, cinematography and art direction. There have been car racing movies before, but this one puts you in the driver's seat like none before. If you've had the distinct pleasure (or terror, given one's outlook) of having ridden around a racecar track at racing speeds, you will be able to testify that Mangold and his crew get the sensations right.
The final sequence, the 24 Hour Le Mans, is a mighty lesson in how to make a racing movie right, a superbly conducted balance of the technical and the dramatic. Damon and Bale are giving DiCaprio and Pitt of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood a run for the money in the year's best acting duo department.
Ford v Ferrari feels real, authentic and well researched. It's a movie that will please the racecar fans, and those who could've cared less about racing cars, alike. It also makes Vin Diesel look like a total poser.