There are a number of electrifying moments in “Ford v Ferrari”, a well-crafted feature film which is about two real-life figures heading an American team of racing car engineers and designers who worked hard together for defeating their Italian opponent at the 1966 Le Mans race in France. When I watched it at last night, I felt like being a bit too tired to watch a movie, but I subsequently found myself quite thrilled and excited by what I saw and heard during its rather long running time (152 minutes), and I willingly came to forgive its several shortcomings.
During its first act, the movie depicts how things were not that good for Ford Motor Company in 1963. As having been quite frustrated and exasperated with the dwindling sales and growth of his company for years, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), who is the grandson of Henry Ford, sternly demands his executives that they should find any possible way to boost their company, and Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), a vice president in charge of marketing, comes to suggest an idea which may be worthwhile to try: building a really good racing car to win the Le Mans race and then impress many young potential customers out there.
Because Ferrari, an Italian motor company which has dominated the Le Mans race for last several years, is in a serious financial situation at present, Iacocca initially feels confident that Ferrari will accept an offer from Ford, but then he and Ford only find themselves refused and insulted. Understandably quite pissed about that, Ford orders Iacocca to assemble a team to make a racing car which can beat Ferrari’s, and that is how Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a retired professional race car driver who has run his own custom performance vehicle manufacturer company, comes into the picture. Because he once won the Le Mans race shortly before his early retirement, Shelby surely knows a lot about how demanding and exhausting that 24-hour race is, and he also knows a number of excellent experts willing to join the project.
One of such people is Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a British professional race car driver who is also a top-notch car mechanic. Mainly due to his rather abrasive personality, Miles is definitely not someone easy to get along with, but Shelby believes that he and his team really need Miles for winning the Le Mans race, and he sticks to his decision despite the pressure from an obnoxious Ford executive named Leo Bebee (Josh Lucas), who does not like Miles right from their first encounter.
As Shelby and Miles go through a number of ups and downs in their bumpy quest toward their common goal, the movie accumulates its narrative momentum step by step while occasionally providing nice personal moments generated between Miles and his family. While she is fully supportive of her husband with deep understanding, Miles’ wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) cannot help but become upset when her husband is not wholly honest to her, and she surely shows him that she is not someone he can fool at all during one dramatic scene. In case of Miles’ young son Peter (Noah Jupe), he has always looked up to his father, and there is a tender moment later in the story when he and his father have a little personal moment in a wide place during one evening.
Once everything is ready to be geared up for full speed, the movie swiftly enthralls us as demanded while racing through a number of superlative sequences which definitely deserve to be watched in a big screening room. Under the skillful direction of director/co-producer James Mangold, these sequences are quite breathtaking with palpable realism and intensity, and they will certainly make whatever you saw from those Fast and Furious flicks look pretty tame in comparison. Sure, I often noticed special effects used in the film as your average seasoned moviegoer, but the overall result felt quite real to me and other audiences around me nonetheless, and I must confess that I frequently winced and cringed as overwhelmed by the sheer verisimilitude in its vivid presentation of speed and sound.
It helps that the movie is anchored well by its two good lead performers, who fill their archetype heroes with each own distinctive presence. While Matt Damon diligently holds the ground as required, Christian Bale, who looks much leaner than when he appeared as Dick Cheney in “Vice” (2018), willingly hurls himself into showy moments, and his intense quality is utilized well whenever his character pushes himself and his racing car as hard as he can.
In case of other main performers of the film, they are mostly stuck with underdeveloped roles, but they are well-cast at least. While Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe do a bit more than filling their respective spots. Tracy Letts reminds me again that he is always good at exuding aggressive authority, and Jon Bernthal and Josh Lucas are also effective as two contrasting Ford executives.
In conclusion, “Ford v Ferrari” drives along its familiar route without much surprise, but it drives its story and characters pretty well along its predictable course, and I admire a lot its superb technical aspects including the cinematography by Phedon Papamichael, the editing by Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland, and the music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. In short, it will give you one of the most gripping movie experiences of this year, so I recommend you not to miss it while it is being shown at movie theaters.