A daredevil buddy movie in the vein of The Right Stuff, Ford v Ferrari mixes a ton of adrenaline with a whole lot of Don’t Try This at Home. It’s a bromance that pits American grease and grit against Italian style and bravado. Sure, no one can make a car as gorgeous and glamorous as a Ferrari (and that is probably still the case), but, back in the day (the post-war 50s and 60s), it would be hard to bet against the ingenuity, creativity, and dreaming of the Americans.
In the Ford boardroom, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is looking for ideas to sex-up the stolid automobile brand for the new post-war boomer generation, and visionary young Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) proposes getting into the red-hot racing business. There is no race car out there sexier and more successful than Ferrari, so retired racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is hired to pull together a team to come up with a car to race at Le Mans to beat the legendary Italian brand. The timeline? Three months. Not knowing much about car racing, even I scoffed just like Christian Bale’s tantrum-throwing-but-super-talented-racer Ken Miles when Shelby floats the idea by him. But of course who doesn’t love a challenge, especially when you have limitless access to a huge wallet? Ken is in! (Rev your engines!)
As I watched the easy and fun rapport between Miles and Shelby, as they tinkered with, designed, and raced their test cars, I kept thinking that Damon and Bale must have been in a movie together at this point in their careers. Didn’t they have a fistfight on Mars? No, that was another Oscar winner. Were they in a heist movie together? How has this pairing not happened before?
As usual, Damon brings his appealing Everyman humor and relatability to Shelby (a driver itching to race, but retired early from a heart condition). Bale, on the other hand, probably has the most fun in a movie since the black comedy American Psycho, with his wild-eyed, bursting with enthusiasm racer Ken Miles.
Chameleon Tracy Letts is unrecognizable from his role as the sweet dad in Ladybird. Here his Henry Ford II manages to be more than a doughy rich white guy in a suit. He also gets one of the funniest-turned-moving scenes in the film as he literally is taken for a ride, and truly realizes the advances in technology made since his father’s turn at the wheel. Other supporting players get to shine, especially go-to character actor Ray McKinnon as Phil, Shelby’s right hand man, and Bernthal as young (hot?!?!) Lee Iacocca. Josh Lucas and Caitriona Balfe have a little less to work with as tokens (villain and wife, respectively), but still have their moments.
Do you wonder how this will end? Come on, I had never heard of this legendary face-off, and I could predict the outcome. The fun, of course, is on the wild ride getting there. Ford v Ferrari brings such an infectious and (yes) boyish enthusiasm to the challenge that it’s impossible to not want to jump in the car with them.