★★★★ out of 5 -- Rated: PG-13 -- Run time: 2 hours, 32 minutes
Director James Mangold has refused to be pigeonholed into making movies in just one or two specific genres. He’s enjoyed great success with films about music artists (“Walk the Line”), westerns (“3:10 to Yuma”), comic book heroes (“Logan”) and action-adventures (“Knight and Day”). Now with “Ford v Ferrari,” he’s tackled a story that features some of the biggest names in the automotive world.
The movie begins in the late 1950s with race car driver Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) receiving devastating medical news that ends his career behind the wheel but kicks off a new life as the designer of high-performance vehicles. Damon plays the Texan with the right mix of steely determination, folksy charm and political savvy.
Shelby’s opposite is his talented but brash test driver Ken Miles, portrayed by Christian Bale. The British actor manages to walk a fine line -- depicting the man’s stubbornness and stellar ability to rub people the wrong way, yet also showing his tenderness to his young son, played by Noah Jupe from “A Quiet Place.”
These men link up with the Ford Motor Company after Henry Ford II (excellently played by actor/writer Tracy Letts) is convinced by his brilliant marketing manager Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) that the company’s sluggish sales are due to the fact their vehicles are boring and lack the high-performance that baby-boomers are seeking. They plan to amp up Ford’s image by buying the legendary Italian car company Ferrari and bringing it into the fold. However, this plan is rebuffed by founder Enzo Ferrari himself, which humiliates his U.S. counterpart. As a result, Henry II quickly becomes obsessed with building a Ford car that can beat the Italians in the marquee auto race that they’ve long dominated -- the 24 Hours of LeMans.
The script by brothers Jezz and John Henry Butterworth (“Edge of Tomorrow”) and Jason Keller (“Escape Plan”) is laid out in pretty standard fashion. Shelby and Miles have to overcome a series of obstacles if they want to achieve their goal -- and that includes technical challenges as well as a Ford executive (Josh Lucas from “Sweet Home Alabama”) who clashes with the team’s lead driver.
The movie’s strongest aspects are the impressive racing scenes that director. Mangold and his team have put together, utilizing state-of-the-art camera platforms that help bring the audience closer to the action. Those sequences are fun to watch, if not really all that groundbreaking.
The movie lacks any big, “stand up and cheer” moments, but there are some very memorable scenes. One depicts the 1964 unveiling of the brand-new Ford Mustang. One of the best is when Henry Ford II is taken on a wild, high-speed ride in a Ford racing car and delivers a tear-inducing comment about his legendary late father. Actress Caitriona Balfe (“Outlander”) also makes a great impression as Mollie, the supportive wife of Ken Miles. She doesn’t have a lot of scenes but manages to dominate the screen whenever she’s on-camera.
This combination of elements will leave audiences who see 2½-hour “Ford v Ferrari” feeling satisfied and entertained. It may even inspire viewers to find out more about the real folks depicted in the movie.