In the early ‘60s, largely in response to an insult from Enzo Ferrari, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) authorized an expenditure of nine million dollars to build a race car that could beat the domineering Italian automaker at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race in 1965 and 1966. Ford v Ferrari is the biography of Ford’s journey.

Now, a huge American corporation with virtually unlimited funds going up against a nearly bankrupt Italian purist hardly makes for a good underdog story. So instead the film focuses on the relationship between the two men who built and drove the revolutionary Ford GT.

Ford’s choice for the former was Carrol Shelby (Matt Damon), the only American to have won the race. And Shelby’s choice for the latter was irascible British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Not everyone agreed; Miles could never see the sense in trying to be liked. And that’s where the underdog aspect kicks in: Two pros who knew how to win a race vs. Ford’s corporate image wonks (ably played by Josh Lucas as the smug, sneering Leo Beebe). The chemistry between Damon and Bale is real and believable, and the driver’s-eye-view racing scenes are immersive. Also of note is Caitriona Balfe as Miles’s humorously supportive wife.  

This barnburner from James Mangold (Walk the Line; Girl, Interrupted; Logan) blends ripping action with emotional punch, old-fashioned storytelling with state-of-the-art film techniques, and wraps it all up in a modern sensibility to create an instant racing-movie classic and a real crowd-pleaser. And you don’t have to be a motorhead. Big screen, please.

Januari 10 (152 min)