Of all sports, car racing is easily the one I have had the least knowledge or interest in. That is not to say I hate the sport, just that various factors in my life have made me unmoved by the idea of fast car driving. The same can be said for me about cars in general (when ever people ask me what type of car I drive, my immediate reaction is “Silver”). Up until seeing Ford v. Ferrari, I did not even consider that race cars would be equipped with windshield wipers. Aside from names like Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, the most I know about racing was that the cars did not shoot off red turtle shells or banana peels.
Like all good sports movies, Ford v Ferrari is about much more than just the sport. It is about the drama (and sometimes comedy) behind the scenes. In 1966, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) decides to put all that the company has to making a new car that kids today would like. After failing to merge with the Ferrari company and having his character insulted (“he called you fat, sir”), he vows to beat Ferrari at the 24 hour le mans in France. Enter retired race car driver/car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon). He brings in his long time friend Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as the lead driver, though some at the corporate office do not like Ken’s attitude.
I have yet to mention the rest of the stellar cast, all of whom fill their roles perfectly. Two of the key roles of the film are Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), both assistants to Mr. Ford. It was Iacocca who initially came up with the idea for the Ford company to have a new racing program, though Beebe was against it. As an actor, Bernthal has been known for playing really tough guy roles (he was The Punisher on Netflix, as well as Shane in AMC’s The Walking Dead). Here, it is a rather subdued, kinder performance, and rather impressive at that. Lucas, on the other hand, is nothing short of a brownnoser. He is sneaky, slimey, and so believable you want to have someone just punch him in the face.
There is also nice work from Caitriona Balfe as Ken’s wife Mollie and the very talented young actor Noah Jupe (who was the son in A Quiet Place) as Ken’s son Peter.
Undoubtedly, the key component that keeps the film afloat is the on screen chemistry bromance of Damon and Bale. Damon has always had star quality (sorry if you are reading this, Jimmy Kimmel), and Bale has yet to show me a bad performance. Each are struggling with their own personal demons (Shelby had to quit racing for health reasons and Miles is having IRS issues). They truly have moments of sharpening one another (bringing Proverbs 27:17 to mind). One of the more comical scenes of the film comes when Carroll tries to apologize to Ken, only to get a good sock in the nose. Soon, they are both wrestling each other (as Mollie brings a chair out to watch). In other words, it is not two enemies duking it out, but each friend unleashing inner feelings at each other.
Another key scene to the film involves Carroll and Ford, in which Ford suddenly breaks down in tears. At first, this seems really funny, only to realize it is somewhat symbolic to the Ford dynasty. It is rather brilliant done by Letts.
Perhaps the film’s stand out star is the director, James Mangold. Some of his previous work includes the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line (with Joaquin Phoenix), 2007’s underrated Western 3:10 to Yuma (with Bale and Russell Crowe), and 2016’s Logan, which gave us an uncanny swan song performance by Hugh Jackman. There are hardly any current directors who can make films like he does that display real authentic grit (sometimes literally) and poetic backbone.
As is the case with all great directors, he knows that action sequences are only part of the movie, not the main part. That is not at all to say that the racing scenes are sub par. In fact, they are nothing short of riveting.
Parents, the film is rightly rated as PG-13. While there is plenty of drama, the rating is mainly due to swearing, but nothing that a typical middle schooler would not hear in the hallways. There are no sex scenes of any kind.
I have never seen a 24 hour le mans event (or any car race for that matter), but I can imagine it has a sense of surrealism. The same can be said about this film, which is indeed long at two and a half hours. Still, the movie reminds us that races are not always about who gets to the end first, but the trip taken there in the first place.