Ford v Ferrari
Ford v Ferrari
Rating4.0 / 5
Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe
14 November 2019
Twentieth Century Fox
James Mangold delivers thrills and speed in a well-made but flawed historical drama.
Ford v Ferrari is absolutely thrilling. It features the best racing sequences I’ve seen since Rush (2013). Perhaps even better, because it feels like it has actual cars speeding at 300km/h down actual roads, which, quite often, it does.
The movie is powered by Matt Damon as car designer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as Ken Miles, a mechanic by day and all-out racing superstar by night. The story is about how they created a Ford fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 1966 24 hours of Le Mans.
In the ’60s, Ferrari was the perennial champ. It was precise and dedicated to perfection. All its cars were assembled by hand. Ford was a major corporation, built on the factory floor, churning out carbon copies of the same reasonably-priced car targeted at suburban families until, eventually, suburban families settled down and stopped buying new cars. So, Ford decided to ramp things up by entering Le Mans to defeat Ferrari. What better way to do that than to hire Carroll Shelby, the only American to have won the race up to that point.
Shelby brings in Ken Miles, who knows cars like Einstein knew quantum physics and would mostly likely marry one if he didn’t already have a wonderful human wife (Caitriona Balfe). He’s a knowledgeable, passionate driver.
Josh Lucas plays Leo Beebe, a Ford executive whose sole task, it would seem, is to thwart Shelby and Miles at every turn. Why? For no real reason other than to deliver the movie a villainous fool, kinda in the same way Paul Gleason‘s annoying deputy chief was dunked into Die Hard (1988) to play devil’s advocate. His decisions regarding the team and who should drive the car at Le Mans make absolutely no sense. What are his motives? Personal gain? Favour with Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts)? Exemplary display of stupidity?
But what Ford v Ferrari does well, it does exquisitely well. This is a rip-roaring, heart-pounding adrenaline rush when it’s done right. The movie is directed by James Mangold, whose filmography has shifted curiously between rom-coms, award-winning biopics, westerns, daft action adventures and, of course, two Wolverine movies. Ford v Ferrari is not among his finest, but boy does he know how to shoot racing scenes.
The key, I think, is the way he connects exterior shots to shots of Bale strapped into the driver’s seat. Bale gives us commentary; he tells us how the car is behaving. So, when we watch him from a distance, we can almost feel what it’s like to be hurtling by at 7,000rpm. The movie feels grounded in real people, real cars and real places – even though, yes, there is a substantial amount of visual effects.
The story dips into predictable and unnecessary melodrama, particularly towards the end, but let’s face it – you’re not gonna go to a movie called Ford v Ferrari for character development and valuable life lessons. You go for the revs of engines and the thrill of speed. Unfortunately, you’ll also have to deal with Leo Beebe.
Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox