By Charles Kirkland Jr.
Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) find themselves in the middle of a race for superiority between two automakers…and loving it in Ford v Ferrari.
The Ford Motor Company is struggling. Sales are down and profits are even lower. In a desperate attempt to reverse the direction of the company, Lee Iaccoca (Jon Bernthal) suggest that the company should get out of making the huge clunker cars and start making sports cars, not just any sport cars that can win Le Mans. The problem is that no American company has ever won Le Mans and Ferrari is the reigning Le Mans champion. But one American has won Le Mans, Carroll Shelby. Ford hires Shelby and hot-headed driver, Ken Miles to build a car and team that will take down the smug Enzo Ferrari and his team.
Written by Jez Butterworth and John Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow, Fair Game) with Jason Keller (Escape Plan, Machine Gun Preacher), Ford v Ferrari is the drama recount of the true events in the Le Mans war between the Ford Motor Company and Ferrari that happened in the late 1960s. James Mangold (Logan, The Wolverine) directs the film. Mangold, who was nominated for an Oscar for writing Logan turns in a masterful effort in this film.
Most racing movies focus on the racer or the car but this one focuses on the experience. Mangold does an excellent job of creating an immersive experience where the audience is in the racecar. Each race scene is adrenaline-fueled. The director and the writers also ground the movie by having a scene where a non-racer, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) rides in the car. His emotional reaction shows the audience that what the drivers experience is unlike any normal automobile experience.
True race fans know the legacy of Carroll Shelby and few more know the details of the actual fight between Ford and Ferrari. Even fewer know the legacy of Ken Miles. The wonder of the movie is how the movie does not play as a history lesson but does teach about Shelby, Miles and the Ford Motor Company. Some things are left out, particularly the desire of Shelby to beat Ferrari after being rejected as a driver but mostly the whole story is here.
Matt Damon’s Southern accent is phenomenal but as usual, Christian Bale steals the screen playing the eccentric and intense English driver/designer/mechanic, Ken Miles. Bale has a way of commanding the screen even in a role that is supporting. Damon holds his own but this feels like Bale’s movie.
The real triumph is in making a movie about car racing that seems accessible. Unlike the comedic romp, Talladega Nights, NASCAR movies come across as rednecky and Formula 1 movies like Rush and Senna feel too pristine. While Ford v Ferrari is not any of the Fast and Furious movies, it does portray the very different sport of Le Mans racing in a light that feels like regular guys racing. In fact, it is not even shown what Le Mans racing is until the actual race occurs. The focus is on the car which is truly Shelby’s legacy.
Rated PG-13 for some language and peril, Ford v Ferrari is a joy. It is a super-charged and emotional thrill ride from start to finish. Brilliant acting, compelling writing, and stellar visuals drive a winner.