Cars have a certain pull. They are loud. They go fast. They are dangerous. They are everything that makes being alive fun rolled into one. They are are also a good mode of transportation. The roar of the engine and the speed at which they can attain lift them beyond what they originally intended for and give them new life on the race track.
I wish I was a car person. It’s something I’ve always wanted to know more about. I’d love to be able to fix my own engine when there was an issue with it or know exactly what I was talking about when someone breaks down car components. When you hear someone, who knows their stuff, talk cars and you hear the passion in their voice, it puts cars and the sports surrounding them on a whole other level.
This is what Ford v Ferrari did for me.
Ford v Ferrari
Director: James Mangold
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Ford v Ferrari is the story of two men’s journey to the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Those two men were Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Many people will recognize Shelby from his contributions to the Ford motor brand and the signature Shelby GT Mustang that is rolled out each year. Shelby was a former race car driver, one of the few Americans to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the time, who had to retire from racing due to health concerns. This didn’t keep him out of the game as he continued to design race cars and have his cars compete in races. One of the people who raced for him was Ken Miles. Ken Miles was one of the racers who helped Shelby develop the Shelby Cobra and was known as one of the best race car drivers to have ever lived.
These two men embarked on a journey together to build the fastest possible racing car that had ever existed. They did this at the behest of Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) or The Deuce. Yes, that is what they actually call him. Ford was so incensed at the tactics of Ferrari, to use Ford possibly buying them as a way to drive his buying price up, that he wanted to put together a team to beat Ferrari at their own game. A Ferrari car had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the previous five years. Ford wanted to change that. Shelby and Miles worked tirelessly to make that a reality. All while dealing with dealing from pushback by Ford, the limitations of what they had available, and the time constraint of being ready before that year’s Le Mans.
These two giants of the racing world are played excellently by Matt Damon and Christian Bale. What can be said about these two by now that hasn’t already been said? Matt Damon effortlessly slips into the character of Carroll Shelby. He plays him as a salesman who can talk anyone into anything but is also so invested in racing that he is willing to risk everything to succeed in his passion. Sharing that passion is Christian Bale’s Ken Miles, who is brass and a talented racer who can’t seem to catch the right break in his career. Bale can’t help but steal the show as he disappears into Miles’ shoes. Miles is portrayed as a car guru who has an innate ability of how to make cars faster. These two play off each other so well and it properly displays how these two are friends…friends who sometimes wing wrenches at each other’s heads, but friends nonetheless.
These two shine as men who need to chase the dream of racing cars because without it they wouldn’t be able to live their lives to the fullest. Miles’ relationship with his son, Peter (Noah Jupe), is also highlighted throughout the film to give some insight into what is most important to him, regardless of that urge to climb into the driver’s seat. Ken’s relationship with his wife, Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), is also explored and it is refreshing not to have her be the stereotypical biopic wife who can’t understand their husband’s passion and instead, she knows exactly who Miles is and supports him every step of the way.
There are many moving pieces of the Ford company on both sides of the event. There’s Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), a marketing man who initially brings the idea of Ford buying Ferrari to The Deuce and when that doesn’t work out he’s the supportive part of the Ford executives. The other side of that coin is Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), who is determined to shape the Le Mans experiment to fit how he thinks it should go. He’s the constant antagonist who, after a bad first encounter with Miles, makes it his job to get Miles off their team and put his own driver in there despite the fact that Shelby thinks that Miles is the best man for the job. The Deuce only seems to really care about the project when it suits him. He’s depicted as a man who thinks he’s the next Henry Ford but doesn’t know how to live up to him.
Ford v Ferrari follows a lot of the staples of biopic movies, like Rush, but what it captures better than anything is the racing and the sense of speed from these cars. The racing scenes looked to be shot mostly practically and that adds authenticity to events we are seeing unfold. This was a time when racing was still down and dirty and not as many safety precautions were in place. This led to a rebel mentality developing around people willing to put their lives on the line to drive cars ridiculously fast on a stretch of French country road. A lot of these men were pioneers in developing fast cars and then looking for more ways to make them even faster. The racing is shot beautifully and the sound design will make you feel those revs of the engine and the rumble as the cars whip by. James Mangold once again showcases his talent with this latest effort. Everything here feels real and with the performances on display, it’s hard not to feel immersed in this world that we are now more than 50 years removed from.
The film does a lot of great things and the pace is certainly one of those. The initial part of the film can feel a little slow, but from the moment Shelby and Miles are on board to create the next great race car the film roars at the 7000 RPM that the GT40 is pumping out. It moves fast and also gives you enough time to appreciate the uphill battle taking place to dethrone Ferrari. This all leads to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the final set piece will likely test your theater’s sound system and puts the cars on full display for all to enjoy. The level of knowledge one has about the actual historic events may rob some of the tension but it is thrilling anyways.
Overall, Ford v Ferrari is a great time for car buffs and everyone else alike. The technical prowess and magnetic acting make this a movie that should be experienced on the big screen and may inspire some to rev their engines just a little bit more on the drive home. Just make sure to leave the real racing to the professionals.