“Like my cars, I’ll make this speech fast,” says Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), American race-car driver and designer. “Henry Ford and I, together, we’re going to build the fastest car in the world and win at Le Mans.” It’s the 1960s, Shelby speaks at the launch of Ford’s latest Mustang. “You’re going to build a car that will beat old man Ferrari?” asks famous British race-car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). That’s the setup for “Ford v Ferrari,” a true-life race-car saga, compellingly told.
Does unpredictable driver Ken Miles work successfully with legendary designer Carroll Shelby? Can both of them put up with Ford’s often annoying corporate execs? Will you be entertained by “Ford v Ferrari”? I was.
Matt Damon and Christian Bale share good chemistry as odd couple, Shelby and Miles. Their rocky but genuine collaboration is at the heart of this excellent film, as Robert Redford and Paul Newman were in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969). They’re great fun to watch, even when they’re beating up each other. Also fun to watch are Tracy Letts and Remo Girone as battling CEO’s, Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari. When Ferrari rejects Ford’s takeover bid, he adds insult: “You’re not Henry Ford,” he says, “you’re Henry Ford the Second.”
Others in the cast include Jon Bernthal and Josh Lucas as Ford execs, upwardly-mobile Lee Iacocca and full-of-himself Leo Beebe. Beebe thinks Miles is a “beatnik.” Caitriona Balfe is Mollie Miles, Ken’s unpredictable wife, and Noah Jupe is 10-year old Peter Miles. They are, as critic Anthony Lane says, “a non-sappy happy family.” Ray McKinnon is Shelby’s trusted engineering lieutenant, Phil Remington, crucial to the design of Ford’s 200 mph GT40.
“Ford v Ferrari,” expertly directed by James Mangold, from brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller’s zinger-loaded script, is fast-moving (as it should be) entertainment. You’ll root for the good guys — Shelby and Miles — and boo the bad guys — like Leo Beebe who says of Miles, “He’s not a good image to put in a Ford car.” Nicely structured with a brief prologue and three acts: (1) Ford tries to buy Ferrari; (2) Shelby and Ford build the GT40; and (3) Ford wins at Le Mans. (Oops, sorry. Was that a spoiler?)
Rated PG-13 for language and peril, FVF runs 152 minutes, but it won’t feel that long. Phedon Papamichael did the great cinematography. The energizing soundtrack is a treat, including the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”
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