Sometimes formulas work. Put a couple of bankable stars in a movie with some thrilling action sequences and a real-life underdog story and you’ll be hard-pressed to not have a good movie on your hands.
Such is the case with “Ford v Ferrari,” the true story of a renegade car designer and a hard-nosed driver recruited by Ford Motor Company to build and drive a car to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.
Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby, a former racecar-driver-turned-racecar-builder who is eking out a humble existence on the circuit. His top driver is Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale), a fearless British WWII veteran who is as hot-headed as he is talented.
Shelby is approached by Ford marketing whiz Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), who has convinced his boss Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) the best way for Ford to improve its image is to start building racecars that challenge for the checkered flag in the top races in the world.
We then go through the stages of trial and error as Shelby, Miles and their crew work to perfect their car while corporate stooges like Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) try to micromanage their chances of success into oblivion.
Director James Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “Logan”), knows the heart of his movie is the thrills on the racetrack and the interplay between Damon and Bale, so he gives us tons of both.
Throw in a nice supporting turn by Caitriona Balfe as Miles’ long-suffering-but-supportive wife Mollie and some top-notch cinematography and it’s all enough for a highly enjoyable film and one that begs to be seen on the big screen.
But one thing sort of sticks out about “Ford v Ferrari” like a loose thread on a sweater and everything is fine as long as you don’t start to pull on it.
At issue is while it’s clear who we are rooting for, the movie isn’t really sure who we should be rooting against. Sure, on the track we’re rooting against Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), but not because he’s a bad guy, but because he builds really, really good racecars. In the end, it kind of feels like we should be rooting for him, an independent owner-operator of a smaller company going up against a corporate behemoth with limitless resources.
The movie also wants us to hate guys like Beebe, but he and his kind are ultimately vindicated by Shelby and Miles’ success. Ultimately, even though things turn out as we would expect, the proceedings wind up a little unsatisfying as even Shelby and Miles’ unlikely victories are undermined by these cross currents.
It all works out in the end as Damon, Bale and white-knuckle racing make up for any shortcomings making “Ford v Ferrari” an enjoyable turn around the track.
“Ford v Ferrari” is rated PG-13 for some language and peril.