“Ford v Ferrari” manages to strike the perfect balance between octane-fueled fun and a compelling story about a team who fought their hardest against the odds.
In an age where car films have become synonymous with explosions and high-risk stunts, it’s refreshing to watch a film that focuses on what automotive films should be about: cars. “Ford v Ferrari” tells the incredible story of American racing and automotive design legend Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and automotive racing legend Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they partner with Ford to take on Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The 1960s saw one of, if not the worst, economic slumps in Ford’s then-short history. People were losing interest in the boring everyday cars coming off the production lines, opting for the more sporty Chevrolet Impalas and Chevelles of the time. In an effort to rejuvenate the brand and bring back consumer attention, Lee Iacocca pitched a radical idea to Henry Ford II:jump into the racing game. With no prior experience in the racing circuits, Ford decided to buy a small company famous for racing, who just so happened to be down on their luck. Who was this company? Ferrari. Upon learning that Ford would not let him race the Ferrari brand were he to accept, Enzo Ferrari sternly rejected their proposal. And so began the war between Ford and Ferrari.
Ford approached Shelby to help pilot their new racing program. Shelby was not only famous for designing the Shelby Cobra, but for being the first American driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. Shelby then enlisted the help of Miles, a British mechanic and racer living in the Los Angeles area, and off to the races they went.
The film tells the story of two men, who for better or for worse, cannot stay away from racing; Damon and Bale’s characters both have this unbridled fire for what they do, and it’s portrayed extremely well. Damon’s cool-headed Shelby juxtaposes very well with Bale’s hot-headed and fiery Miles. At a glance, the two characters look as if they wouldn’t fit well together, but it soon becomes apparent that they are yin and yang. Miles pushes Shelby to take risks, while Shelby pulls Miles back from becoming a risk to everything they’ve worked so hard for.
Director James Mangold created a story that combines auto fanatics’ passion for cars while still being accessible to a more general audience. Miles’s passion for the building of this race car doesn’t come across as forced or superficial. The audience truly believes that Bale is playing a character that genuinely knows cars. Bale’s portrayal of Miles leaves the audience with a sense of giddiness as he blazes down the straightaways, sharing the joy and excitement of every downshift. Miles’s love and care for his son is a nice touch as well. We’re given glimpses into their close relationship as Peter Miles (Noah Jupe) follows his father with wide eyes from the local races of LA to the biggest race in the world. It’s clear that both Shelby and Ken Miles are men with flaws. Shelby has a hard time delegating and Miles has a hard time finding balance. Miles’s relationship with his wife is continually tested, as he struggles to keep his love for racing from wrecking his marriage.
Through every downshift, every corner, and every lap, “Ford v Ferrari” will have audiences gripping their seats. It dives into the dirt of the corporate world and what can happen when corporate interests intermingle with the passions of people. It’s clear that this film’s biggest and most important characters are the cars; it doesn’t simply use them as a plot device or object to propel the story forward. The Ford GT-40s and the Ferraris interact with Miles and Shelby as any other character in the film would. The stubbornness with which the GT-40 meets Miles and the team is what makes this film so much fun to watch. The audience is able to see the negotiation between driver and machine, and the deep attachment that stems from this struggle. This film is not just any car film — it’s a love letter to cars and to those who invest everything they have into them.
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Image courtesy of the Inquirer.