IMDB Synopsis: American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.
Ford v. Ferrari is a crowd pleaser. On the surface, it’s a (mostly) true story about Ford Motor Company’s personal vendetta with Ferrari, fought via race cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The driving set pieces are truly incredible, the performances from the A-list co-leads are compelling, and there’s a gifted director at the helm (James Mangold). But peeking under the hood, Ford v Ferrari isn’t quite as polished as it seems, coming in a little overlong and the supporting cast gets lost in the shadow of its two megawatt protagonists. All-in-all, Ford v Ferrari is breathtaking at times, clumsy at others—but mostly enjoyable—at a mid budget no-less, something that is becoming rarer and rarer.
After a failed buyout of Ferrari (and insults from namesake Enzo), John Ford II (Tracy Letts) and Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) plan to wage war on the storied automaker, to beat them at their own game. Enlisting legendary driver and car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to lead a team of engineers and drivers to create a car capable of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Principle among Shelby’s team is Ken Miles, a never-was driver with talent in spades and a heart of gold. The Ford team are armed with little more than grit, determination, and… a blank check and the resources of a multibillion dollar corporation. Not exactly David v Goliath, but the soul of Ford v Ferrari isn’t about behemoths in a measuring contest. It’s about Shelby and Miles’ unbridled love for cars and racing. About them doing something that’s never been done.
The story is well-known in racing circles, with Ford indeed triumphing at Le Mans, but that’s not the real story. Facts can be gleaned from Wikipedia. The film really soars in the smaller moments in the garages and on the test tracks. Racing mechanic-speak, upgrade montages, and Ken Miles ripping around the tracks gives the film energy and soul. What works less is Miles’ family life, which seems shoehorned in despite solid performances from his wife and son (Caitriona Balfe & Noah Jupe). Somewhere in between, the office intrigue (mostly at Ford) moves the plot forward, and gives the corporation a human face. Ford faces a sales slump, a battering in the press, and needing a win. But ultimately, pleas to feel sorry for John Ford II fall on deaf ears, as it’s hard for the audience to feel bad about the Ford Motor Company, especially in a post-2000s world.
In this beautiful dramatization of two giants at war, Director James Mangold illustrates the cost in blood, sweat and tears of what a war of egos hath wrought. Mangold deftly portrays the danger and exhaustiveness of 24 hour racing, while simultaneously showing the power and beauty of racing in the era. Matt Damon and Christian Bale show genuine chemistry as the oft-combative duo, as they navigate uncharted territory. Ford v Ferrari isn’t about the Americans versus the Italians. It’s not about blue collar muscle of Detroit versus the precision craftsmanship of Modena. It’s a story about the indomitable spirit of human nature and about changing the world. It might be titled Ford v Ferrari, but it’s got a much more human heart.
Highlights: The backstabbing Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) is a character that you love to see. All of the driving sequences are incredible. Tracy Letts as John Ford II adds a menace and demeanor that’s perfect for the character.
MVP: This is a Christian Bale Oscar-vehicle. His portrayal of Ken Miles should garner a lot of buzz on the awards circuit.
Should you watch it: The car sequences are thrilling and the performances are solid, but it’s a little overlong and has a too-sweet ending. 7.5/10.
Director: James Mangold
Studio: 20th Century Fox // Original release date: November 15, 2019