Vroom Vroom. Can you hear it? That’s the sound of the Oscars best actor race putting pedal to the metal as we approach the final straight.
Not content to concede fastest lap to current pole position Joaquin Phoenix – on the back of his box-office smashing turn in Joker – former Batman Christian Bale is coming up hard on the bend.
He plays real-life racing legend Ken Miles in Logan director James Mangold’s fast-paced and furiously fun biopic Ford v Ferrari.
It’s a treat for rev heads, but also a roaring crowd pleaser for fans of true drama.
The movie centres on the pride-on-the-line race to snatch the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans trophy from the steel grip of sneering Italian magnate Enzo Ferrari (Killing Eve guest star Remo Girone).
All grit and grease, a taut-faced Bale is a spot-on pick for the Birmingham-born Miles, even if his accent is a touch too posh.
A renowned racer just as smart on the engineering front as he was fearless on the track, Miles relocated to Los Angeles after serving as a British Army tank commander in World War II.
Packing a sparky temper, Bale slips into Miles’ denim overalls with ease.
Infamous for his on-camera meltdown on the set of Terminator: Salvation, Bale has a method acting technique that might get him riled up, but also gets results.
Fresh from portraying Dick Cheney in a fat suit in Vice, Bale is brilliant as this lean, mean, race-winning machine tapped by Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby.
The Martian and Bourne star will be chasing a best supporting actor nod for his smart-witted turn here.
Shelby was a famous racer in his own right, winning the 1959 Le Mans in an Aston Martin DBR1, as shown in the movie’s prologue.
He retired shortly after because of heart problems but transitioned into one of America’s finest car designers.
Ford v Ferrari’s frenetic trackside recreations sees the pair team up with the iconic American brand against the might of the Italian giants, after Enzo snubs the financial advances of Tracy Lett’s Henry Ford Jr (a fine actor played too on-the-nose here, with a heinous bit of anti-Italian bigotry disappointingly cast as a hero moment).
It’s a bit much to call Ford underdogs, given the vast amounts of money at play and swathes of meddling execs jostling to micro-manage Shelby and Miles’ dynamic duo.
Yellowstone lead Josh Lucas is weaselly as marketing manager Leo Beebe, with push back from The Punisher star Jon Bernthal’s under-utilised Lee Iacocca.
Highlander‘s Catriona Balfe doesn’t get much of a look in as a housewife waiting around for her man in a movie all about the blokes.
As great as Bale is, Phoenix’s lead is probably untroubled.
While the Academy loves biopics, there’s more punch in the Joker’s performance.
Bale and Damon’s tough-guy buddy flick vibe also faces stiff competition from the one-two punch of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
That could split the best actor vote, further clearing Phoenix’s path to the finish line in a role that saw Heath Ledger triumph posthumously in 2009 for The Dark Knight.
But with the inexorable rise of Netflix giving the traditional studios a run for their money, also keep your eyes on wildcard Eddie Murphy and his hilariously sassy comeback Dolemite Is My Name.
He plays comedian-turned-kung fu fighting Blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore. It’s a biopic, sure, but comedy rarely makes the podium.
As the frenetic Le Mans race proves, all bets are off when rubber burns.
Whatever happens this Oscars season, it’s going to be a thrilling contest.
Ford v Ferrari is screening nationally