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‘Ford v Ferrari’ wins big screen race

"Ford v Ferrari”

20th Century Fox

Directed by James Mangold

Rated PG-13

3 ½ Stars

I barely have a passing interest in auto racing, but that has just changed after watching “Ford v Ferrari,” a period racing movie that features impressive acting and action sequences. Even for non-racing fans, this is one of the best films of the year.

The film is based on the true story of how Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and his hot shot and hot head driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) were hired by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) in the mid-60s “to build a car that could beat Enzo Ferrari in the Le Mans race. This is a story of dogged friendship, where the two men must fight corporate meddling in order to even get a shot driving in the prestigious race.

Le Mans is a grueling, 24-hour test of human and mechanical endurance. I never thought that I would find myself so invested in whether or not a car could keep performing for so long. Credit the filmmakers for making a movie that should appeal primarily to gear heads into such a thrilling triumph of the human spirit.

Also credit the cast for making the film so much fun to watch. Damon gets to show off his all-American charm, playing a good old boy who doesn’t quite fit into corporate culture. Bale gets the showier role, playing the temperamental driver who can’t seem to get out of his own way. Indeed, while this story begins with the bad blood between Ford and Ferrari, much of genuine drama comes from the fight between Miles and a Ford Vice President (Josh Lucas).

“Miles v Ford and sometimes Shelby” would be the more accurate title for this movie.

Matching Damon and Bale every step of the way is Caitriona Balfe, playing Miles’ long-suffering wife. She’s a newcomer for anybody who doesn’t watch “Outlander” on TV, but she is superb, with one scene that is so powerful that I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t land her an Academy Award nomination.

The production design team is also running in top gear. The period design is spot on, and the sound of those engines growling around the track is simply awesome. Much of what makes the race so thrilling is found in the sights and sounds that the filmmakers capture in order to thrust the audience right into the driver’s seat. Expect more Oscar nominations from these technical departments.

My only complaint is that some of the bad guys are simplistically drawn and that the film’s running time is a bit long, but given the excitement of the race sequences, the pace of this 2½-hour movie still zooms along nicely.

Give “Ford v Ferrari” the checkered flag. It’s a superbly crafted film that should please auto racing fans and mainstream audiences alike.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com