Firstly, let me say from the outset that you don’t need to be a car racing enthusiast to enjoy this high calibre flick. The production values are slick thanks to adept direction by James Mangold (Walk the Line), great set design, and a splendid cast who re-enact a fascinating true-to-life story.
Usually there is a film element that I wish to be modified, deleted or added, but I can safely say that this Ford v Ferrari is superbly directed and acted, all crafted to a perfect balance that’ll take you to the edge of your seat on an exhilarating joy ride.
The two lead stars – Matt Damon (Carroll Shelby) and Christian Bale (Ken Miles) – ooze such dynamic chemistry that you forget the actor and completely buy into their characters, cheering them on like a buddy, against all odds.
The story is based upon true events in the US mid-to-late 1960s when Ford waged a new car racing war against industry leader and juggernaut Ferrari. At that time Ferrari made the fastest, sleekest cars and were the envy in the industry, however they were going broke. Ford on the other hand mass-produced and successfully sold thousands of suburban cars and took an opportunity to seize the coveted La Mans 24-hour race.
The prickly owner, Henry Ford, commissions maestro automotive engineer Shelby (Damon) who leads a dedicated racing team to manufacture a car that not only rivals but is faster than Ferrari. That impossible challenge proves it takes an experienced car racing driver with gumption. Enter the doggedly passionate Miles, who forms a partnership with Shelby, both with the smarts to pull off the biggest nine-million-dollar risk in the history of car racing.
Shelby not only invented the then unrivalled GT40 race car that is now legendary but would enter the history books as one of the best automotive designers in the world.
The intense battle between egocentric Ford owner (an enigmatic performance by Tracy Letts) urged on by his manipulative hired suits pit a business fight against their own Team Ford whose struggle is real and dismissed at every turn. Their status-fuelled (pardon the pun) conflict takes them on a journey through ebbs of highs and lows like the gruelling 24 race itself, drawing the audience to a dramatic nail-biting finale.
The casting is inspired creating endearing characters, particularly the insufferable Miles, played with raw grit by Bale who gives his best performance since ‘The Machinist’, also having lost 70 pounds for the role. Miles’ loving relationship with his supportive wife (the wonderful Caitriona Balfe) and his impressionable son offers tenderness that softens the hard edge of the masculine grip of the racing industry.
While the race wars between Ford and Ferrari are exhilarating, the internal war that threatens to splinter Ford’s cut throat executives from Shelby’s racing team, makes this a drama to savour. The audience are wooed and invested in Team Ford’s rise or demise, making this film accessible with broad appeal.
This is the car racing film you have been waiting for, offering so much more than action-fuelled fumes. In fact, I’m guessing Ford v Ferrari will earn itself Oscar nods, for best supporting actor at least.
Ford v Ferrari opens in cinemas Thursday 14th November.