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21 Nov 2019

Fast and Fantastic: 'Ford v Ferrari' Sets a New Standard for Race Car Movies With Its Brilliant Performances and Amazing Action

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Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Ford v. Ferrari. Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Ford v. Ferrari.

For those of you who love cars, but are getting tired of the Fast and Furious franchise’s “vroom-vroom” formula, Ford v Ferrari will be a welcome ode to automobiles going very fast.

It’s the 1960s, and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) has had it up to here with Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) and his fast, flashy cars. He and cronies such as Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) are cranky, 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 Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a race car driver who, after a heart condition benches him, becomes a designer and salesman. Ford hires Shelby to design a car that can beat Ferrari in races—primarily the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race

It’s a tall order, and it calls for a crazy guy behind the wheel calling the shots. That guy is 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 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 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 such a way that you feel every gear shift, hairpin turn and moment when a car could skid off the tracks and cause grave injury. In this sense, the movie tops the auto-movie genre.

If you are looking for powerhouse acting, you will not be let down: Damon and Bale are otherworldly good as two longtime pals who have no problem with occasionally punching each other in the face, yet always having 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 clichéd, but the performers, especially the amazing Jupe, elevate the material.

There’s a lot of car talk, and credit goes to writers Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller for a script that makes the audience feel like it is 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. Just consider yourself warned: The class is long, clocking in at just more than 2 1/2 hours.

This one is going to be in awards contention for sound, cinematography and art direction, as well as the acting categories. There have been previous car-racing movies, 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 being in a race car at racing speeds, you will know that Mangold and his crew get the sensations right.

The final sequence, involving the 24 Hour Le Mans, is a masterclass on how to make a racing movie right: It’s 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 race-car fans—and entertain those who could care less about racing cars. It also makes Vin Diesel look like a total poseur.

Ford v Ferrari is playing at theaters across the valley.

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