The real battle here is the disagreements between the Ford executive staff rather than Ford v Ferrari, which takes too much of the script time rather than the spectacular performances which highlight the characters in the story.
The force which gives rise to the final battle at Le Mans begins when Ford attempted to purchase the Ferrari company and was used by Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) to force up the price which might be paid for the company. That caused Henry Ford II (Tracy Lettis) to begin a process in which Ford could build the fastest cars in the World and win at Le Mans, the world’s oldest active sports car endurance race.
When the characters and personalities take over the film it soars, Christian Bale after loosing significant weight looks like Ken Miles a British World War II veteran and professional race driver who by instinct understands what must be improved in the construction of the cars to make them winners. He hears hums and whistles that lead him to understand what can be done to improve a winning car.
Miles is an edgy character, very slender, silent at times but determined to win at his task. He also has not been a very effective business man, his business is closed by the IRS early on in the film and his wife (Caitiona Balfe) supports but challenges him. In one scene she drives at very excessive speed with him in the passenger until he answers her questions as she expects. There is affection their but both are type A strong characters. His son played beautifully by (Noah Jupe) who is an adoring son impressed by his father’s work is joyful to watch.
But when Miles gets together with Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) they develop the “Shelby” cars which can stand 7000 RPM and reach 220 MPH and have folks that are skilled enough the fix the problems the battle begins. Even when the breaks burn up Shelby figures out how to replace the entire wheel structure quickly during a race. Damon plays his native Texan with a slight drawl and carefully placed polite sentences which fail him when he is angered.
Aside from, Ford II who appears undecided and varies from time to time until Shelby roars around a test track at unheard of speed with full control and Ford in the passenger seat does he understand what is happening with the car. Following the experience he is emotional as states the wishes his father would have been able to have that experience.
The battle lines are sometimes soft in the Ford executive board room. Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) is much quieter that he was later in life at Chrysler, but is almost always in Shelby’s corner. On the other hand Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) works to undermine Shelby’s every step right to the end of the race at Le Mans.
All the infighting is highlighted more than necessary and takes up too much time. The most effective scenes, action and emotion come from the battle to take the trophy at Le Mans. The camera-work and placement during the race scenes is remarkable. Very often we feel that we are in the Shelby car as it completes the 24 hour race. The cameras placed carefully on vehicles allow us to experience the dangerous curves and the upending of vehicles that crash.
The final scenes at Le Mans are worth the price of admission. That along with top performances by Matt Damon and especially Christian Bale, forgive the muddled battles of the Ford leadership.