In late 2019, I had a good run of getting to the cinema (a bit of a treat with a family)…we managed to hit the latest Star Wars film, the most recent Jumanji film, the latest version of Little Women, and Taika Waititi’s most recent project, Jojo Rabbit. But somehow in the midst of all that, I missed getting to Ford v Ferrari. Well recently, in these semi-lockdown days, I was finally able to rectify that oversight.
The movie is about an effort by the Ford Motor Company to design a car that would beat the celebrated Ferrari as the winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race. The based-on-a-true-story took place in the 1960’s, and starts with the embittered relationship between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II, who are each the heads of their companies, both struggling to financially solvent. Ford then turns to Carroll Shelby, an automative designer and former driver to create and build the Ford GT40 and to put the company on the map with younger drivers. Shelby in turn enlists troubled engineer and driver Ken Miles to play a critical role on his team.
As with any film like this, the success lies in its ability to marry together both the excitement of the sports action and the humanity of the characters, and in this respect Ford v Ferrari is nearly flawless. Matt Damon easily inhabits the role of Carroll Shelby, giving the character a sort of effortless authenticity. It’s not the sort of role that would win someone an Oscar, but Damon is so natural and so relaxed in the part that there’s never a question that he’s the anchor for the audience to connect with the story.
Christian Bale, meanwhile, is more obviously outstanding. He makes Ken Miles into a man who is obviously flawed but still sympathetic. There’s even a nobility to the man–he has a commitment to principles and an awareness of the dangers of their arrangement with Ford that Shelby lacks. Again, his personal struggles feel very real, but never move into the realm of forced tragedy or contrived sentimentality which I was worried about.
The relationship between Shelby and Miles is wonderful to watch–there’s a mix of ideological friction and legitimate affection that causes us to invest in their friendship, and to care about the task they both set their minds to us. And while the two come into tension at time, it’s never forced and it never descends into melodrama–there’s a lightness of touch to the storytelling that makes it easy to watch. And there’s a well-developed, compelling theme, about the conflict between a man and a heartless corporate machine that gives the movie greater depth, and brings out meaning to everything that is happening. All credit to director James Mangold for the way he is able to keep the elements of the story balanced–I’m slowly realizing what a skilled storyteller the guy can be over quite a range of material (his credits include Logan, The Wolverine, Identity, and Knight and Day).
There’s a lot of good supporting players in Ford v Ferrari as well, including Catriona Balfe and Noah Jupe as Ken Miles’ wife and son, and also Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II. Letts has a particularly outstanding scene where he breaks down emotionally after the speed and the danger of the car his team is working on is palpably demonstrated to him. Also featuring in a good sized supporting role is Ray McKinnon, as Phil Remington, a key member of Shelby’s team. McKinnon is an actor I’ve written about before. His part is pretty understated, but it was still good to see him here.
And let me not finish this off without emphasizing how good the actual racing scenes were. Like I said, the strength of the movie is its ability to marry the driving action with the characters, with both sides being equally strong. I’ve seen a few Fast and the Furious movies, but there’s nothing in any of those that gave me the feeling of being on the track with the drivers like this movie did. It was transporting, gripping, thrilling…without ever getting cheap or silly.
I’m not a particular fan of racing in any expression, but while I was watching this movie, I loved it. Good job!