Sunday 17 November 2019

Film Review: Ford v Ferrari

James Mangold is firing on all cylinders alongside Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Ford v Ferrari.

The year is 1963, and Italian racing team Scuderia Ferrari are the dominant force in international motorsport. Their tried and true Ferrari 250 has powered the likes of Phil Hill, Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini to five wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in six years. Their owner, the enigmatic Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), is revered as a master craftsperson, with an eye for elegant racing cars that go as fast as they look. But, he's broke.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Ford CEO Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) wants to boost car sales by entering the racing scene. After a deal to buy the cash-strapped Italian outfit turns ugly, the furious American car tycoon formulates a new plan – to beat Ferrari where it will hurt them most: the iconic Le Mans 24 Hour.

Ford ropes in former racing driver (and Le Mans winner) Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and his boutique Shelby American outfit. With a blank cheque and a score to settle, Shelby recruits rough-and-tumble English driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to pilot Ford's powerful GT40 at Le Mans – but corporate wrangling between Shelby and smarmy marketing exec Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) threatens to end Ford's warpath against Ferrari before it even gets going.

Great sports films are a dime a dozen, but great racing films? Now that's another story. For every exhilarating entry like Rush, there's a Driven stalled on the grid. Thankfully, Mangold's Ford v Ferrari sits alongside – and in some regards, surpasses – the former, with its thrilling and visceral racing sequences, impressive sound design, gorgeous cinematography and compelling performances. I could sit here all day and sing its praises – it's an absolute must-see for fans of motorsport (such as myself), and is even well worth your time if you can't tell your Gurney flaps from your monocoques.

Ford v Ferrari is a film all about opposites; from the titular rivalry that sees the artistic and expressionistic Prancing Horse lock horns with the corporate Blue Oval, to Shelby's wholesome Texan standing shoulder to shoulder with Bale's abrasive and antagonistic Brit. This odd couple wonderfully complement each other, with Damon in particular impressing – this might be his best performance in years. Bale is great too, with his broad Brummie accent just one signifier that this square peg might not fit in Ford's all-American corporate headquarters.

Through its lead characters, Ford v Ferrari deftly navigates the grey area where racing and business intersect. On the one side, you have Miles – a racing driver through and through, with no time for pencil-pushing suits who are more concerned with quarterly sales figures. On the other, you have Lucas' marketing exec, who sees Ford's endeavours at Le Mans as merely a means to an end. For Miles and Shelby, all that matters is crossing that line first; for Ford's higher-ups, it's the 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday' mentality.

Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, Ford v Ferrari's political tug-of-war might be a little strung out, but it all feeds into where we finish. Mangold is able to weave it all together in brilliant fashion, with more than a sprinkling of sentimentality for older audiences for whom the 60s and 70s were a golden era of motorsport.

The film's third act – the big race – is textbook big-budget moviemaking, where escalating stakes and nail-biting moments are stacked one after another. This is where the film really sings, through a choir of crunching gears, roaring engines and screeching brakes. The racing sequences in Ford v Ferrari are exhilarating to watch, and a treat for the ears too. For fans, the filmmakers have done the era justice, with everything from period-appropriate cars to the sponsors on Miles' flameproof race suit.

Befitting of the period and the industry, Ford v Ferrari is a very male-dominated film; the only female role of note is afforded to Miles' worrisome wife Mollie, played by Caitriona Balfe (Outlander). The film takes a couple of detours to explore Ken and Mollie's relationship, and Balfe does a lot with the little she's given. However, like most films about motorsport, she's relegated to a bystander while the men head off to the race track.

This, plus the fact that you could maybe shave 10 or 15 minutes off the runtime, is the only criticism I have of Ford v Ferrari. Given my lifelong love of racing, I was always going to be an easy sell for this film, and unsurprisingly I loved it from lights out to chequered flag.

Ultimately, Mangold is telling a film about brave men doing brave things – and the way Ford v Ferrari explores that, particularly with Miles being a husband and a father, is resonant and powerful. With this film, Mangold has crafted an all-time classic in the racing subgenre, up there with the likes of Ron Howard's Rush, Asif Kapadia's Senna and John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix.

The Verdict: 10/10

Ford v Ferrari gets off to a slow start, but it goes up through the gears until it's humming like a dream. The frenetic third act is the stuff blockbuster dreams are made of, with all the thrills and spills that only a classic motor race like Le Mans 1966 can provide. Bale and Damon bounce brilliantly off one another, while Mangold brings it all together – editing, visual effects – like he's conducting an orchestra.

Ford v Ferrari is in cinemas across Australia now. 

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely adored your film review Rhys for Ford v Ferrari and the very high score you gave it has me looking at the cinema screen times right now. Two brilliant actors, Matt Damon and Christian Bale together with lots of high speed motor racing is right up there for sheer enjoyment I agree. Thank you for providing some details on Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, I hadn't heard of these drivers so it is great to get some background information beforehand.



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