A good story is a good story – and it doesn’t take a rev-head or grease monkey to appreciate how excellent a story Ford v Ferrari is. Set in the mid 1960s, the film tells the true account of the Ford Motor Company’s entry into the world of car racing when they set about competing in the annual 24 hours of Le Mans, the most gruelling race in the world.
Following Ford’s failed bid to purchase Ferrari, CEO Henry Ford II took the rejection personally and set his team the impossible task of building a faster car than Ferrari. To pull off the unthinkable feat, they called upon former race driver – and mechanical engineer – Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to build a car that would withstand the extreme conditions of Le Mans while breaking records along the way. As far as Shelby was concerned, it was only remotely possible with driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) behind the wheel. With Miles’ cantankerous and hostile personality, the corporate figures at Ford had little faith in the outlandish team and set about micro-managing the program and second-guessing the two men at every turn.
Ford v Ferrari chronicles the entire endeavour to glorious effect and is one of the year’s most exhilarating and pulse-pounding films. Director James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line) dives into the world of 1960s motor racing with an infectious nostalgia and commitment to authenticity, and is always conscious of the greater audience’s naivety to the world he is exploring. Although the film’s title panders to motor enthusiasts with its very specific reference, the story itself is universal and boasts a broad appeal to lovers of cinema.
Damon and Bale are perfectly cast as the formidable duo, and their personality clashing makes for compelling drama, laced with levity and adoration. Bale’s short-tempered and fiery personality counteracts Damon’s confident and cocky American personality, which when put to the challenge, combine to revolutionise their industry. One can’t help but think how Bale’s casting relates and perhaps owes a lot to his own very public meltdown, which saw his temper flare at some bloke off-camera. It is a character trait that he often conjures in film and one that seems to suit him perfectly.
Other casts members include Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II, whose arrogance and corporate standing is both intimidating and pathetic. His performance is wonderful and he brings a sense of weight to the proceedings. Josh Lucas is Ford’s right-hand-man whose distain and distrust for Miles is conspicuous. His character is villainous and Lucas fully embodies the iniquities with relish.
Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) is great as Mile’s wife. The arduous task of keeping her temperamental husband grounded is played nicely and her moments of outburst are wonderful to watch. Young Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) plays their son and his love for his father makes up a good portion of the film’s heart. We are given time to see this dangerous sport through the eyes of a child, whose father risks death at every turn, and through his wonderment we also see the fears and anxieties that come with the profession.
Good car racing films have the power to charge the screen with energy, and with their high-octane ferocity and thumping soundtracks they can become memorable cinema-going experiences. To this day I can recall the power of Tony Scott’s Days of Thunder (a severely underrated film in my estimation) as it tore up the screen with intensity, as well as Ron Howard’s Rush and Le Mans starring Steve McQueen. These films transcend their focused environments to convey stories of human achievement and adversity. The metal and rubber become secondary to the characters and their motivations, and Ford v Ferrari is an exemplary example. It is a time capsule not only for the sport itself, but of a bygone era, when race cars were roofless and drivers wore goggles. Ultimately, it’s a fascinating true story told with sincerity; a ride well and truly worth the price of admission.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆
‘Ford v Ferrari’ opens in Australian cinemas on November 14 and US cinemas on November 15, 2019.