★★★★ ½

In Ford v Ferrari, Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) pairs with the writing team of Jason Keller (Escape Plan) and brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow) to tell a mostly-factual tale of an American Dream come true. This team triumphs at making a limited-audience story into a compelling and exciting film that anyone can enjoy.

The year is 1959, and shortly after he has won the 24-hour Le Mans, heart issues have sidelined Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) from racing. He turns to building cars instead, but it is not as satisfying to him. In the meantime, insults from Italian automaker Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) anger Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) so much that he determines to beat them at Le Mans. As a result, Ford General Manager Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) seeks out Shelby to gain his help in building the perfect race car. Part of that design is having the best driver, in the form of Ken Miles (Christian Bale), to push the car to its limits. An equally important part, though, is finding the perfect way around the bureaucracy of rigid marketing executives, most notably Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), that might prevent Shelby and Miles from completing Ford's revenge.

James Mangold's fine direction of both static and action scenes brings out the very best of the cast. And while some of the characterizations may be more colorful than in real life, the actors portray them in such a way that one can never tell if there are exaggerations to how things actually happened. A portion of the credit should go to the finely tuned script from Butterworth, Butterworth, and Keller that keeps the 152-minute film moving along despite passing the two-hour mark.

Much credit should also go to the exceptional acting, across the board. Matt Damon gives one of the finest performances of his career as the driven, determined Shelby. But even he pales in comparison to Christian Bale's performance as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. There isn't a single moment that he isn't Miles. Beyond these two, the other cast members play their roles wonderfully, perfectly supporting the two central characters.

One might expect a film that is essentially about racing to be loud and overwhelming, and while some scenes will make viewers hold their breath, that isn't the focus. Even so, the driving scenes are realistic and thrilling, and any featuring Bale are a joy to watch. The cars are perfect replicas of the originals, as are the look of the factories, workshops, and homes. Everything about the film, from the streets to the office personnel, has the feel of the early 1960s. Even the Le Mans track is a direct recreation of one that no longer exists—a testament to how detail-oriented the director and crew are.

Ford v. Ferrari is a wonderful film, pulled together through a rare combination of exceptional writing, directing, acting, and technical crew. And while some of the events might play a little loose with the exact history, the film races to a win from the starting flag to the finish line.