For a movie titled Ford v. Ferrari, Ferrari has very little presence in the film. Enzo Ferrari appears, as do some Ferrari racers, but this is a movie about Ford, and a movie about Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles.
Wisely, the movie doesn’t really try to portray Ford as the good guys. Henry Ford II is a blustering blowhard. He wants to be on top of the car game, but doesn’t seem to have any idea how to get there, other than to throw money at everything. At the start of the movie, Ford is in a bad place. Executive Lee Iacocca comes up with a plan to drive interest in the company’s vehicles; buy Ferrari. They make sexy racing cars, with their designs and reputation Ford could get back on top. Unfortunately, their trip to Italy to make their sales pitch ends with Ferrari insulting the Ford Company and Henry Ford II personally. In a fit of pique, Henry Ford II, who was not all in on the Ferrari plan, decides that Ford is going to build a race car to beat Ferrari at the 24 hours of Le Mans. To do so, he hires Carroll Shelby, the only American racer to win the race.
Taking an already existing prototype, Shelby tries to create a race car that can beat Ferrari. To this, he brings on the best driver he knows, Ken Miles. Together, they make the car and try to work the kinks out of it, all while dealing with recalcitrance and pushback from the suits at Ford. Eventually, they get the car to Le Mans, and Miles gets his chance to race.
This is a very meat and potatoes movie. It rests on the sturdy shoulders of Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Bale has the showier role. He is the bigger personality; the one actually behind the wheel of the car. Damon gets to do a lot of yelling at jerks in suits. They are both excellent. The movie is full of moments of just them being great. Whether it is Damon plotting a way to get a douchey executive out of the way so he can talk Ford II into leaving him in charge, or if it Bale and Damon fighting with groceries on the front lawn, or Bale explaining the intricacies of racing to his son, the two of them are excellent. Those two performances are more than enough to carry the movie.
Then there are the racing scenes. Specifically, the climax of the movie at Le Mans. The movie does an excellent job of conveying the speed and danger of driving in one of these races. It does a great job of showing the feel of the race. Le Mans is a grueling endurance test and the movie does a great job of showing just how hard it is to keep going for the whole 24 hours. And in showing how good Shelby and Miles are at racing.
I am not sure what the movie is saying with its primary players. One can look at the process of designing the car as the process of movie making. Shelby, the director, and his team are the ones with the ideas and vision, but Ford, the studio, is the one with the money to make that vision happy. Shelby has to walk a narrow line of achieving his vision while keeping the suits happy. Ferrari has little to do with it. It is impossible to see him as a villain, and the movie doesn’t portray him as such. He is an artisan; his cars are crafted works of art. Other than this race, which Ford won by throwing more money at it, Ferrari and Ford are not really playing the same game. It is a battle of quality and quantity. Still, at the end, it is not Henry Ford II, ostensibly his boss, that Ken Miles looks to after the race; it is Enzo Ferrari.
This is a good movie. Just a solid, entertaining film. That is more than enough.