Ford v Ferrari is a lot of things: a showcase for two of our great actors, one of the best car racing movies ever made, a compelling drama. At its core, though, it’s a story of two men completely dedicated to what they do and doing it despite the system they work in and the company they work for, always asking them to make concessions.
Make no mistake, Ford v Ferrari is an underdog story, but Ford isn’t the underdog, and Ferrari isn’t the villain. Instead, the underdogs are Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, toiling away at making the best car in the world while their bosses are telling them to make the best Ford.
There’s a metaphor for filmmaking in there, somewhere.
The film opens with Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959 and immediately retiring from racing. Not because he wants to, but because he must. A few years later, he is running a custom car shop and managing race teams.
Next, we meet Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a renowned racer and car expert and an asshole. No one likes him, but Shelby at least recognizes the skill and innate understanding of the art of racing. So when Ford wants to start a race team with Shelby, Shelby insists that they bring along Miles.
The rest of the story has some pretty compelling drama. The two men are variously at odds or best friends, and the company keeps making mandated changes that cost them time, money, and, most importantly, race. It seems Ford wanted to beat Ferrari (mostly due to a rejected takeover bid accompanied by a string of choice insults), but they wanted it done the Ford way. It turns out the ford way of running hundreds of sensible cars off an assembly line isn’t a great way to win races, though.
Damon and Bale are great in this, with Damon as the smooth-talking boss and Bale as the acerbic genius, but although it’s billed as having two leads, it’s really Bales movie. Miles is the struggling underdog here, the one who has something to prove. As I understand it, Bale had to create the character from scratch, as there isn’t a lot of footage or material on Miles.
The supporting cast is good, too, with America’s favourite dad Tracey Letts around as Mr Ford (who has a particularly great scene where he actually rides in one of his racing cars for the first time) and Jon Bernthal as Lee Iacocca, then marketing lead for Ford. Josh Lucas puts on his full smarm to play Leo Beebe, too, which is always nice.
We haven’t even talked about the races yet, though. The races in this movie are, I think, the best racing scenes I have seen in a movie. The combination of where we’re at with effects plus real cars on the roads and great performances mean that each race is unique and exciting. Even the Le Mans race in the last act of the film manages to be nerve-wracking (even if you know what happened) despite being such a long one. Each race has its own tenor and personality as much as each character does, and they are each of them a thrill.
The way James Mangold sets up the cameras to follow the cars, lead the cars, and in some cases swoop in from grand wide shots to tight, fast-paced driving is incredible.
At around two and a half hours long, Ford v Ferrari isn’t short, but it never felt long to me. It does take quite a while between races, but that only makes the races more exciting. Even if it does feel long at times, I will defy anyone to find a scene to be cut.
Ford v Ferrari is a fun film with two strong central performances and some of the best car racing I have ever seen. Definitely add it to your watch list for November.
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