'Ford v Ferrari' Revs up Oscars Engine in High-Octane Ride With Matt Damon and Christian Bale (Review)

After its acclaimed debut as the official selection at the Toronto International Film Festival this past fall, Ford v Ferrari is getting into high gear this winter and leading the charge among the discerned contenders in the heated Oscar race. Fueled by mega star power and firing off all cylinders in direction and storytelling, the true story of two ambitious men pushing past their personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Henry Ford II to challenge Enzo Ferrari is a well-oiled emotional thrill ride of heart, grit and friendship.

Known for creating a class of movies rarely seen on the big screen today, director James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line) is at the top of his game with Ford v Ferrari and does an impeccable job of directing a multilayered commercial drama that puts viewers right in the driver’s seat of its action, human foils and the spirit of competition. Driven forcefully by sharp camerawork, a pristine and heartfelt script, and exceptional performances, the 152-minute feature really takes off thanks to its two lead stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale.

Genuinely fun to watch, it’s hard to believe this is the first time the Academy Award winners are sharing the screen together as they have a natural chemistry with one another and propel the story forward in their respective roles of American automotive designer, Carroll Shelby and British race car driver, Ken Miles whose mission is to take down Ferrari in the 24-hour race of the 1966 Le Mans’ Grand Prix of Endurance. Between Shelby and Miles, Damon and Bale aptly portray the obsession of two men driven by their steadfast passion to compete at the risk of their lives and career out to make history and change the dynamics of racing.

Equally engaging and radiating charm from start to finish, Damon and Bale really help make this film a winner with their beautifully nuanced performances and charisma. However, it’s Bale’s performance as Miles that truly engrosses the viewer with his immaculate and continued magnetism, proving he’s one of our generation’s most vibrant talents. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he’s nominated for an Academy Award in this year’s race, especially as he takes on the role of Miles so purely, completely with emotion and a feisty wit.

While the two are incredibly exciting to watch play with one another beyond their humor, passion and strong personalities, their co-stars are just as perfect and really good to watch evolve in every scene, including young star, Noah Jupe as Miles’ son; Ray McKinnon as Shelby’s right-hand man, Phil Remington; Jon Bernthal as Lee Iacocca; Josh Lucas as the contentious Leo Beebe, and Tracy Letts, as the often antagonistic, Henry Ford II. It’s worth noting Irish actress, Caitriona Balfe of Outlander fame stands out not only as the lone female in the film, but is a dynamic presence and perfect complement to the film’s temperament and consistent soul as Miles’ supportive wife.

Of course, one of the greatest aspects in racing has always been about the locations and Ford v Ferrari delivers more than just a lush setting to enhance the crux of this movie’s message from the dusty deserts in California to the cool, wet northwestern countryside of France. With some of the best race sequences captured on film in the last decade, the shooting by acclaimed cinematographer, Phedon Papamichael portrays a slick American style accompanied by a number of dynamic, eye-catching visuals that harmonize with every corner of this movie. Conveying new ways to shoot the traditional racing type of scenes seen today, Papamichael perfectly conveys the glory of the sport’s speed and its lethal danger by concentrating its framework on character ambition, which also ultimately motivates the camera and its direction for an enthralling, immersive experience.

Complete with edge of your seat excitement and heart-in-your-throat emotion, Ford v Ferrari is a glorious throwback, reminiscent of movies made by yesteryear Hollywood and a genuine crowd-pleaser. As something that must be watched on the big screen, it captivates audiences from start to finish with the sound and fury of its roaring engines at high speeds on a long, enthralling track, evoking the smell of burning tires and dust settling against a backdrop of corporate politics in the making and launching of a rival race car to compete with Ferrari.

Blending both modern sensibility with traditional storytelling, the spirited and sharp retelling of an illustrious moment in racing history makes for a thoroughly enjoyable film with its credible performances, direction and cinematography. While the film almost feels like a love letter to racing fans and those admiring the sport for its speed and edge, it’s something for everyone. With thrilling sequences and an underlying commentary about art versus business, Ford v Ferrari shifts gears most smoothly and does not disappoint, particularly with its nail-biting conclusion.

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Undoubtedly one of best movies of the year that will have you laugh and possibly cry, Ford v Ferrari with its full-bodied drama and premium entertainment confidently balances heart and edge to click on all cylinders for a precision-engineered adrenaline rush.

Ford v Ferrari is now playing in theaters.