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With: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Noah Jupe, Ray McKinnon, JJ Feild, Adam Mayfield, Remo Girone
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Directed by: James Mangold
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language and peril
Running Time: 152
Date: 11/15/2019

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Lap Dogs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This enjoyable based-on-a-true-story racing movie runs a little long, but it manages to keep up a good, breezy pace, focusing more on pure entertainment than on trying to be dutifully "important."

In Ford v Ferrari, race car driver Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) wins the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans race but is forced to retire because of a heart condition. Meanwhile, at the Ford Motor Company, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) proposes that the company start making race cars, as a way to improve their image with younger drivers. An attempt to partner with Ferrari goes south, so they hire Shelby to build their car. Shelby, in turn, hires Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a talented but volatile driver, to help work out the bugs.

Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) puts executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) in charge of the racing division, and Beebe immediately sets out to get rid of Miles. But Miles and Shelby have an ace up their sleeve; they actually have the talent to win races, and have their sights set on the 1966 Le Mans. Nevertheless, Beebe still has one last weaselly plan.

At the heart of Ford v Ferrari are two fine performances by Damon and Bale, forging a touching friendship in a masculine and ego-driven world that is based more on small gestures than on big demonstrations. Ken Miles is a show-off, but Bale makes him seem real, with relatable worries and outrages. And Damon clearly enjoys his clever, quick-witted character, who still somehow makes genuine connections. Just as good is playwright Letts as the stern, rocky second Henry Ford; he is reduced to terrified screaming and joyful tears when Shelby takes him for a high-speed ride in his new car.

At the wheel, director James Mangold gives Ford v Ferrari the crisp, confident energy of his best genre films, Logan and 3:10 to Yuma (the latter also with Bale), without letting it drift into the stodgy, awards-ready seriousness of his previous biopic Walk the Line. It's so simple and classic it could have been sent here directly from the early 1960s. Perhaps its most niggling flaw is Josh Lucas's slimy, one-dimensional villain character, acting out of pure selfishness.

However, the racing sequences are impeccably timed, with thundering, thrilling sound design that could convert newbies into hardcore racing fans. But the movie's best achievement is the sly way it depicts the central friendship, largely unspoken, but still surprisingly tender.

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