After spending some time in the X-Men universe with the fun but flawed The Wolverine and the excellent Logan, James Mangold heads back to the 60s for the sports/racing drama Ford vs Ferrari, which features a pair of amazing performances from Christian Bale and Matt Damon.
Centered around the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race but including the lead up to that event as well, Matt Damon stars as former racer and car design legend Carrol Shelby, who is probably best known for designing the Shelby Cobra along with the Ford GT40 that is the focus of the movie, and Christian Bale plays his friend and driver, Ken Miles. Shelby is approached by the Ford Motor Company to help design a race car that could potentially win the Le Mans race and unseat Ferrari, whose cars were dominating that race and were outpacing Ford cars culturally and style-wise as well. The movie feels like it has a similar structure of a Rocky movie, where instead of training montages, it’s developing the GT40 and then it culminates in the “fight” which is the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Even if you don’t really have any interest in racing, there’s a lot of good character work and drama to dig into as well as Shelby and Miles’ friendship is strained by the overbearing influence of Ford executives, specifically Leo Beebe, played to smarmy douche perfection by Josh Lucas, who are more concerned with PR and marketing than the actual racing.
Christian Bale probably has another Oscar contender performance playing Ken Miles as he’s incredible throughout the film and really lets you see Miles’ passion for racing, even as it got him into hot water more often than not. Matt Damon is also great as Shelby, giving him a roguish Southern charm. The aforementioned Josh Lucas adds another great douchebag performance to his resume and Jon Bernthal co-stars as well as Ford exec Lee Iacocca, who first suggests developing a race car to take on Ferarri, but he doesn’t really have that much to do besides smirk at Shelby and Miles’ defiance of the higher-ups. Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe are both excellent as well as Miles’ wife and son Molly and Peter.
The racing sequences in Ford vs Ferrari are fantastic throughout, which you would hope for with a movie like this. There are some earlier sequences like a 24-hour race at Daytona but the 66 Le Mans is the big set-piece and it’s expertly realized. The action feels fast and dangerous but you also really get a sense of the physical sensation and toll of driving as well, especially a demanding race like Le Mans where you are having to constantly switch on and off every four hours.
If you have any interest at all in racing, Ford vs Ferrari will be right up your alley, but even if you’re just a general sports movie fan, there’s plenty of character and drama to interest you as well. Christian Bale seems like he needs to be in contention for Best Actor and Matt Damon is great as well.