It’s ‘Ford v Ferrari’ in a contest for racetrack triumphs

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in “Ford v Ferrari”

A movie called “Ford v Ferrari” had better be built for speed, and happily, it is – despite the fact that it’s around 2-1/2 hours long.

What’s interesting is that the title characters aren’t really the main ones in the film, though their rivalry hangs over it. Henry Ford II, played by actor and playwright Tracy Letts, isn’t happy when sportscar tycoon Enzo Ferrari pulls out of a deal to help build a hyper-modern car for its time … but Ford proceeds on his own, determined to compete against and beat Ferrari on the professional racing circuit.

To that end, Ford hires driver turned designer Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon) and British racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to develop the vehicle and make it a high-powered reality. The two hires don’t always see eye-to-eye, but with the special skills each brings to their shared task, they ultimately make quite a team. That’s also true of the two actors, who are major fun to watch playing off each other.

Any racing movie worth its gearshift has to include exciting footage in the track, and with director James Mangold calling the shots, “Ford v Ferrari” delivers on that count. The bigger the screen you see this on, the likelier several key moments will put your heart in your mouth. Other examples of the genre have accomplished that, a highly notable one being “Grand Prix” (which was formatted for the immersive Cinerama process in the mid-1960s), so this one had its work cut out for it.

On the acting front, Damon registers with a good amount of swagger, which also works well for his interactions with Bale as his more reserved counterpart. A major question hanging over the entire Ford-backed venture was whether Shelby and Miles could merge their respective skills, and the script co-written by playwright (and recent James Bond-series contributor) Jez Butterworth injects sufficient tension into the duo’s dealings. When it comes to actually getting in the driver’s seat, though, they’re generally of one mind.

You don’t need to know all the ins and outs of the racing world to enjoy “Ford v Ferrari,” and the filmmakers do a good job of not pandering to those who don’t. The result is a slick, quite enjoyable piece of entertainment that much more often than not puts its pedal to the metal successfully.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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