Auto racing legends Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby get a high octane Hollywood tribute in Ford V Ferrari. Director James Mangold assembles an all-star cast to adapt their epic upset at the 1966, 24 Hours of Le Mans. Equal parts character development, burnt rubber, and historical drama, Ford v Ferrari is a glorious tale of true competition. The film ironically runs a sluggish space at times to reinforce the stakes for everyone involved. Ford v Ferrari will have you shifting gears in your seat, laughing more than expected, and possibly shedding a few tears.
In 1963, race car driver Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) had transitioned to automotive design and specialty manufacturing because of health issues. He was approached by Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), a marketing executive at the Ford Motor Company with a stunning offer. Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) had lambasted his executives for declining sales and a general poor reaction to new Ford cars. Iacocca and others convinced him to buy Ferrari, the bankrupt Italian sports car company, to revitalize Ford’s image. Their offer was considered an insult by owner Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), who loudly shared his low opinion of Henry Ford II. This brazen rebuke did not sit well with the arrogant and domineering Ford CEO. He wanted to beat Ferrari soundly in a public forum.
Carroll Shelby had previously won the grueling twenty-four hour Le Mans race in France. The prestigious competition had been dominated for years by Ferrari and his racing team. Henry Ford II was willing to spend any price to trounce Ferrari. Shelby was the man to design the car, but his choice of primary driver rattled the suits at Ford. Ken Miles (Christian Bale) was a hothead, but supremely skilled British driver who had relocated his family to Los Angeles. His devoted wife (Caitriona Balfe) and son (Noah Jupe) supported his racing career, but they were flat broke. Shelby’s offer to join his team was a chance for greatness. That’s if they could construct a superior car, get along with each other, convince Ford II to trust them, and most importantly, actually compete against Ferrari at Le Mans.
The film does a deep dive into the characters. Christian Bale devours the screen with his cockney accent and brash behavior, but the contributions of actors like Tracy Letts and Caitriona Balfe have to be acknowledged. The supporting roles are key to the story’s success. Lett’s is hilarious as Henry Ford II. He was the big d*ck in a room full of ego driven men. A standout scene with Matt Damon on the racetrack may earn Lett’s an Oscar nomination. This is a guy who’s already won a Pulitzer and Tony award. Balfe superbly portrays Mollie Miles. As hard-nosed as her husband, she was the rock in his life. Her scenes with Christian Bale help anchor Ford v Ferrari. James Mangold (Walk the Line, Logan) spends a lot of time depicting their family life. This is a developed emotional attachment that makes the third act quite impactful.
The racing scenes in Ford V Ferarri are a breath of fresh exhaust. It’s gratifying to see artistry in a car film after years of being inundated with CGI Fast & Furious garbage. There’s obviously CGI effects in Ford v Ferrari, but it’s done with a nod to realism. The camera work and editing in the various races are masterfully done. My minor complaint, surprisingly, is that there could have been more racing scenes. There are big gaps between the races. At two hours and thirty-two minutes, Mangold could have spread the action more evenly to level the pacing.
Ford v Ferrari will be a full throttle awards contender and deservingly so. It’s a great flick that honors the titans of racing. I’ll liken the film to the 2020 Ford Shelby GT500, a brilliant composition of form, power, nerve, and pure adrenaline. Ford v Ferrari is one of the year’s best films. You don’t have to be a gearhead to enjoy this one. Ford v Ferrari is a production of Chernin Entertainment and TSG Entertainment with distribution by 20th Century Fox.
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