Ford v Ferrari
Director: James Mangold
Writer: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 | Minutes: 150
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Great sports cinema goes far beyond what happens on the field, the court, or in this case, the racing track. It explores the unseen drama and relationships that are created off of them. Ford v Ferrari, directed by James Mangold, is just that kind of film as it chronicles the building of a better, faster, and stronger American car, while also elevating the story with a real-life grounded human drama.
Though it may check off all the boxes when it comes to biographical sports films, it also makes and checks off a few more with its editing and technical designs in sound, production, and costumes, and has audiences consuming what they are watching thanks in part to terrific performances from Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Check out the full review below.
In 1963, Ford attempted to buy out Ferrari. However, when Enzo (Remo Girone), the owner of Ferrari, learned that the acquisition also meant losing their racing program, he backed off. Upset at being rebuffed, and having to listen to some additional insults, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) directed his racing division, led by Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) to build a car to beat Scuderia Ferrari.
They would then go to famed automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Damon), who recruits race car driver Ken Miles (Bale) to lead a team of American engineers and designers from Ford to build a race car that would beat the legendary Ferrari at the 24-hour Le Mans race. Not only does Ford v Ferrari chronicle Shelby and Mile’s journey to build a better, faster, and stronger race car that could endure the harsh racing conditions, it also takes a look at the relationship between the two and the friendship that was forged from that race.
Sure, Ford v Ferrari has all the requirements that make for a great racing drama. It’s got likable charismatic characters, the sports hook, and a huge sense of urgency. How is an American-built car going to beat one of the premier racing cars at a coveted race? In 90 days no less. Of course, the film will cover all of that, which includes designing and building the car, corporate oversight, some infighting, and most important of all, the racing. So really, all of the narrative aspects are there. In a way, it does feel formulaic because you can find out about the entire story, and maybe even some more details about its history, with a simple Google search.
But in order for Ford v Ferrari to avoid being completely formulaic, it needs to lean on more than just the sports hook. So it relies on some of the other aspects like the performances and technical aspects from sound, editing, cinematography, and production design. Capturing those moments both on and off the race course will give the audience a better sense of the story and bring us closer to how these cars are built and all of the drama that happened on and off the race course.
The film is designed to make you feel as though you are there. The racing moments will most assuredly raise the heart rate a few ticks. Every sense is heightened when you hear Miles shift gears, or when he puts the pedal to the metal which causes the engine to roar. You get to see what kinds of intense reactions the racers have as they speed through the course. And you see the emotions in the racer’s eyes when the rubber meets the road and there is nothing else but the driver and the car.
There is never a moment where the audience is taken out of the film. Looking past the racing alone, Ford v Ferrari draws you in with Mangold’s frequent collaborator FranÃ§ois Audouy‘s work with the production design. The graphics, the cars – most of which are real by the way – the factories, races courses, and pit stops look convincingly like they were pulled straight out of the 1960s. That kind of practicality is a rare thing. So I can’t help but appreciate that director of photography Phedon Papamichael‘s approach was to bring a sense of realism and practicality to the film.
Then there is the expert editing. The ability to cut from the cars racing to the driver’s reactions and then to the behind the scenes drama, whether that is from the pit or the executive suite, without missing a beat is incredible. This is especially true when the film reaches that third and final act. It is because of all of that build-up, from building these cars to Shelby and Mile’s relationship, that drama of the Le Mans race feels authentic.
Damon, who gives a focused performance as Shelby, a cowboy automaker who push comes to shove will do the right thing; and Bale, who gives a dynamic performance as Miles, a driver who has a reputation for being difficult to work with. The two really need each other. More so than they would like to admit. For one thing, Shelby knows that Miles is the only one who can truly understand how a car works. Inside and out. And since Miles has a reputation for not playing well with others, he knows that Shelby is the only one who will hire him to race. Lucas’s Leo Beebe makes for a very nice foil to the racing duo as he only cares about Ford’s image and reputation.
Peeling back the layers of the film will also reveal that Ford v Ferrari is about the relationship between man and car. It’s evident that both Shelby and Miles care more about the sport itself than the corporate execs ever could. For the latter, it’s about being able to settle a score after being rebuffed, but for Shelby and Miles, it was about the race. They find that they can connect through their love of the sport. And both find ways to use that love to rise above their personal faults.
Ford v Ferrari is so much more than a film about a race. It is about the relationship between two people who want to achieve a goal that is greater than a corporate reputation. Rather than just recount a piece of sports history by simply going through some of the biggest moments, Mangold gives us a deep dive into what happens when two people who care about the sport of racing manage to get past their own egos and overcome impossible odds.
While Damon and Bale’s performances are outstanding, the advantages that Ford v Ferrari has to keep audiences in the film are the technical aspects that transport them to another era to witness how true love of the sport can bring everyone together.