Most of the film surrounds the events leading up to France’s illustrious 24 Hours of Le Mans auto racing event, mostly glossing over Ford losses in 1964 and 1965 as roads poorly chosen. We start with Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a former elite racecar driver, the first American driver to win at Le Mans, who retires into designing racecars and coaching the next generation of elite racers after finding out he has heart disease. Considered a maverick by his contemporaries, his services are sought when the Ford Motor Company, who are attempting to brand their vehicles to younger people who want style and sex appeal in the cars they buy, planned to acquire the financially struggling Ferrari in 1963. Those plans fall through spectacularly, leaving both sides feeling insulted. Ford wants to show Ferrari, and the world, that they are more than just a company that can mass produce family vehicles. Shelby sets about building what would come to be known as the Ford GT40 model, trying to maximize power and minimize weight and drag to be the fastest racer on Earth.
Christian Bale plays British racecar driver Ken Miles, sought by Shelby to help his test out his designs to give them a chance to come out on top in the grudge match between Ford and Ferrari. He’s skilled at what he does, but Henry Ford II wants him replaced by someone less of a loose cannon and willing to tow the Ford line to the media. Ken’s wife, Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), and his son, Peter (Noah Jupe), feel ambivalence about his quest to be the best. They want him to bring home the bacon, but they’re also afraid that he’ll be another casualty in the car racing arena who doesn’t get out of his car in time. Shelby must weigh his friendship and knowledge that Miles is the best shot to win with the needs of his funders, who are only in it to promote their brand. James Mangold directs.