Ford v Ferrari: Close to firing on all cylinders

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3 out of 4 stars

Christian Bale and Mat Damon come pretty close to firing on all cylinders in Ford v Ferrari, which is as much about their teaming to race cars on the track as their bromance off it.

They are certainly the odd couple. Damon plays retired racing legend Carroll Shelby, who is quiet and reserved, going as far as saying “words aren’t always useful.”  Bale is the cocky, yet loose, Ken Miles, who runs his mouth as fast as he drives his car.

But Shelby and Miles share a goal when they aren’t airing their differences – to prove that American manufacturer Ford can beat defending champion Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.

Bale and Damon dominate a two-and-a-half-hour movie that will please racecar lovers as much as those who have never watched a race. The premise is based on Italian manufacturer Ferrari thumbing its nose at Ford, belittling the American manufacturer, making fun of its factory, its fat owner and its cars.

But when Henry Ford Jr. (Tracy Letts) learns how he is viewed by Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), he channels his efforts to taking what Ferrari covets most: a victory at Le Mans, which it had won several years running.

Ford Jr. turns to Shelby – a former Le Mans champion – to build a racecar in three months to topple the Italian superpower. But it’s not that simple. Shelby wants Miles as the driver, which doesn’t sit well with Ford executives who wants a more clean-cut driver that fits the company’s image. The corporate shenanigans the Shelby must overcome for a good portion of the movie could easily cause the movie’s title to be changed to “Ford v Ford.”

Director James Mangold uses a strong cast that includes John Bernthal, who plays a young, ambitious Lee Iaococca, who while still very much under Ford Jr.’s guidance tends to side with Shelby. But Ford Jr’s right-hand yes-man Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) will stop at nothing to get Miles away from the steering wheel.

Ultimately, Shelby and Miles get what they want and deliver some racing scenes that are as exhilarating as any ever shot on film. The racing during LeMans will never be confused with NASCAR and the cinematography makes the audience feel they are in the passenger seat next to Miles as he speeds through hairpin turns.

Like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford v Ferrari drags on in a few spots, but the movie still takes the checkered flag.