Ford v Ferrari is, undoubtedly, a car movie. A clash of the titans tale of two of the most well known vehicle manufacturers going toe to toe in perhaps the world’s most famous race: the 24 hours of Le Mans. Christian Bale and Matt Damon play driver Ken Miles and renowned car designer Carroll Shelby, respectively. Together they seek to do the seemingly impossible: dethrone Enzo Ferrari’s unstoppable machines at Le Mans.
That would perfectly define the movie that you go see. Fast cars, loud engines, and copious amounts of adrenaline. Only, that isn’t all that is under the hood of Ford v Ferrari. Bundled up beneath all of that testosterone is the story of two brilliant men pushing back against the rigidity of a world steeped in routine. Two creatives who fight the corporate powers-that-be in an effort to truly step outside of the box and create what has never been made before. It’s the story of two men, vulnerable and raw, giving themselves to the creation of something more than themselves.
In 1963 Ford was in negotiations to buy Ferrari. Ford had seen their sales numbers in dropping steadily for years and they were going to make the big move. Buy the car everyone dreamt of, and make it more affordable. Unfortunately, the talks take a turn when Enzo Ferrari discovers that he would be relinquishing his ability to control his company. Ferrari ends the negotiations and sends the Ford marketing team back to Detroit with their hats in their hands, and with message for Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts, The Big Short).
The following moments could very easily be considered the moments that defined Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford II, called “The Deuce” in his absence, digs in his heels and throws down the gauntlet. In one of many memorable moments of the film Ford asks, “You think FDR beat Hitler? This isn’t the first time the Ford Motor Company has gone to war.”
The table is set.
Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby is a smoothie talker, sure. More than that, he is a man who knows cars inside and out. Damon’s performance is admirable. His southern accent flavors his sentences in a way reminiscent of a younger Tommy Lee Jones. Carrol Shelby is a former racer who can’t get behind the wheel anymore. In the first few moments of the film a doctor’s diagnosis clips his wings. When Ford comes to his garage looking to build a race car, he doesn’t hesitate for a moment, a racer to the bone.
Ken Miles, on the other hand, is akin to a dog whisperer for cars. When you meet him, he immediately oozes a unique, almost instinctual eccentricity and unequaled knowledge of the vehicle in front of him. Christian Bale is in peak form. His last few movies have seen him in the apex of his career, and Ford v Ferrari continues the trend. Miles is a fiercely passionate man, a caring father and husband, and the best damned driver this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Miles and Shelby together create magic both on screen and on the track. Shelby takes on the suits, pushing back against a company that always wants to exert its force over the project, Miles takes on the machines that the engineering team give him.
And then they give him the him The Ford GT40, in my own opinion, one of the most beautiful cars ever made. The sound of the GT40 is enough to lock you into your seat. The motor roars and bites. The first time you hear this monster come to life, a chill will creep down your spine.
There are moments in the film where I felt my heart accelerate with the vehicles on the screen. Very few films that I have seen capture the momentum of a high-performance vehicle roaring down the track. Ford v Ferrari finds a way to nail that inertia. Turns are gut wrenching, straightaways push you back in your seat, drafting tightens your knuckles, and rain is absolutely terrifying.
Director James Mangold is a talented character examiner. His work on Logan was ineffable. Shelby and Miles are pitted against the bureaucracy of Ford, the expectations of the world around them, and the relationships they hold closest. It’s the timeless struggle of creativity seeking to break free of rigidity. Passion versus paper. Soul versus regulation.
Mangold’s ability to capture this struggle is impressive. The supporting cast helps push this message forward naturally and with force. Jon Bernthal (Punisher, Fury) is magnetic as Lee Iacocca. Caitriona Balfe (Super 8) steps to the plate as Mollie Miles and brilliantly bounces off of Bale’s Ken Miles.
Finally, in perhaps the most important moment of the entire film, Tracy Letts delivers an imposing and yet vulnerable Henry Ford II from the passenger seat of what may be his company’s most influential car. In a scene played for a laugh in the trailer, the chuckles in the theater quickly shushed into quiet tears. This film does something special, folks.
On the outside Ford v Ferrari is a movie about cars. Between the credits, it is a film about the undying spirit and its ability to surmount the insurmountable. It is the story of father’s setting examples for their sons, and sons trying to live up to who their father was. For a film with a title entirely focused on two vehicles, locked in conflict, Ford v Ferrariis a remarkably human movie. | Caleb Sawyer