Ford V. Ferrari Review


“Ford v Ferrari,” which debuted on Nov. 15, delivers a satisfying and thrilling account of the epic motorsports duel between the two car companies during the 24 hours of Le Mans races during the mid-1960s. The rivalry is told from the perspective of its two protagonists on the Ford side, Carroll Shelby played by Matt Damon and Ken Miles played by Christian Bale. 

A challenge of any racing movie is to capture the intensity of a high-speed race and put the viewer in the driver’s seat. Although the racing sequences in “Ford v Ferrari” are not as over the top as those in Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” nor as emotionally intense as those in Ron Howard’s “Rush,” director James Mangold does make the stakes and risks, which were incredibly high in motorsports at that time, feel real and immediate. When driver Ken Miles is pushing the Ford GT-40 past 7,000 rpm, the point at which Shelby says “everything fades,” you can feel the mammoth tension on driver and machine with every ascent of the needle on the tachometer. 

Damon and Bale are an exceptional tandem of leading stars that largely carries the film. Damon plays Shelby, perhaps the most famous American automotive designer, a veteran and former winner of the Le Mans race from Texas. He executes Shelby’s Texan accent and gritty determination and charm with ease, meshing well with Bale’s portrayal of what, in some ways, is the British reflection of Shelby. Told to quit racing due to heart problems, Shelby remains anything but out of the racing world and is picked up by Ford to lead the development of its racing team. 

Shelby’s brother in arms and sometimes professional antagonist Ken Miles, a British racing driver and WWII veteran with financial troubles, is the most charismatic and engaging part of “Ford v Ferrari.” His willingness to take risks, commitment to his family, sense of humor in the midst of peril and inability to suffer any fools endears him to the viewer. 

Although the purported central conflict is between the Ford and Ferrari motor companies after Enzo Ferrari uses Ford’s offer to buy Ferrari as a means to increase the sale to Italian car company Fiat, much of the actual conflict on screen is between the more blue-collar, cowboyish Shelby and Miles raging against the bureaucratic idiocracies of Ford. 

Here enters the movie’s most personified antagonist, Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), a VP who insists on having as much control over Ford’s racing endeavors as Shelby, despite his lack of knowledge, from development to the minute decisions taken during the race in France. The historical accuracy of his feud with Miles is questionable, but the essentially corporate-America conflict does add more moments of tension that are likely highly relatable for viewers. 

“Ford v Ferrari” lacks any real female presence besides Miles’s wife Mollie, played by Caitriona Balfe, who supports Ken and adds a strong comedic and emotional touch at times that keeps the film grounded when the cars on the track seem ready to fly off it. This almost nonexistence of female characters is understandable given that motorsports was then, and in many ways remains today, a nearly exclusive male sport. 

While “Ford v Ferrari” loses some sense of direction between the titular racing rivalry and the corporate mismanagement, its protagonists Miles and Shelby never lose sight of their goal: the “perfect lap,” which Miles tells his son that most people cannot see. Nonetheless, Mangold and crew do an excellent job of bringing the viewer as close to seeing that elusive lap as any racing movie can.

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