The most treacherous race is run off the track

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Ford v Ferrari
Opens Friday 15

3.5 out of 5

Following the underappreciated Rush, Hollywood doubles down with another risky proposition. Ford v Ferrari tells the deceptively simple story of two men who set up to build a race car but find a bigger antagonist on the corporation that hired them in the first place.

The year is 1963 and automaker Ford has once again lost a competitive race to Ferrari. Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts, Lady Bird) agrees to let former racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) lead a team of engineers to create a winning vehicle. It’s the car equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.

Shelby has issues regarding his forced retirement. He finds a kindred spirit in Ken Miles (Christian Bale), another malcontent who, unlike Shelby, doesn’t hide his contempt for “the suits”.

Ford v Ferrari has two major plots running parallel and sometimes intersecting: building a winning car and manoeuvring around corporate nonsense. Both storylines are fascinating in their own right and when combined, the movie soars. Director James Mangold (Logan) gives the race sequences a you-are-there feeling that reverberates throughout the film. The reconstruction of the cars alone turns the film into vehicular porn (settle down, this is not Crash).

Damon and Bale are reliable screen presences, with the latter making good use of his chameleonic abilities. But the best performer is playwright and occasional thespian Tracy Letts. He could’ve just played the tycoon as an empty suit, but Letts renders Henry Ford II as a man uneasy in his own skin. He’s still a self-involved one-percenter, but at least he resembles a human.

Ford v Ferrari is subtly subversive. Ignore the Italian driver straight out of Wacky Races or Josh Lucas as the suck-up with a grudge against Miles. The actual villain is corporate culture, crushing individuality and treating shareholders as the one true god. Leave it to James Mangold to turn a commercial venture into an exposé.