Ford v Ferrari Review: Not quite a perfect lap in sports dramas, but a full-throttle blast nevertheless
Director James Mangold’s newest film, Ford v Ferrari, excellently showcases the efforts of passionate people rising against the scrutiny that comes from corporate heads to make historic feats – until the end.
Based on a true story, the film follows American car designer Carrol Shelby (Matt Damon) and hot-headed driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they attempt to help Ford beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Even though Shelby has actually won the legendary race before and Miles is quite the devil behind the wheel, the ignorance of Ford and their persistence to maintain their pristine reputation makes it hard for the two to be able to beat the dominant force in racing that is Ferrari. However, with their own kind of persistence and street smarts, Shelby and Miles do everything in their power to go toe to toe with Ferrari and change history.
Shelby and Miles are kind of people you want to root for because of how connective their passion and drive is. They’re knowledgeable about cars because it’s a total lifestyle for them and every time they criticize or make wise remarks at people for their lack of knowledge or ignorant ideas, it’s only because of how passionate they are. There’s a deep level of respect that you gain for them, not just because hearing them talk about cars is like talking about people, but because they don’t let it consume them to the point where they don’t care about other people. Miles is a strong family man that who wouldn’t leave them behind or abandon them to be a great driver and Shelby really cares for Miles and the rest of his crew – even when he doesn’t show it. These two are the kind of people that viewers can look up to and aspire to be because of their passion and drive and it stems directly from how great Bale and Damon are.
Although, as far as I know, this is the first time the two have come together on-screen, they never show it and they have incredible chemistry throughout the entire film. Both of them have this hard-nosed confidence that’s hard not to love and they’re literally the driving force of the entire film. Really all of the performances in the film are strong, but there’s something more to Bale and Damon because of their story represents the power struggles they constantly face due to the perceptions Ford has of them. Calling this film Ford v Ferrari doesn’t exactly fit because Shelby and especially Miles are looked down upon by Ford because of their blue-collar attitudes and lifestyles. They’re not typically seen as “Ford men” and are met with scrutiny and roadblocks from corporate assholes who think they know better, but really don’t. Seeing them persevere past this and really believe in themselves is what this film is all about and Bale and Damon personify this perfectly. For every time they’re a little cartoony and goofy, it’s only because Shelby and Miles are really that passionate and they take you on such an enjoyably wild ride.
Visually, the film is also incredibly stunning as Mangold captures the high-speed racing and total chaos of Le Mans with complete grace. The film, as a whole, isn’t just about the racing and seeing everything come together for the big showdown at Le Mans. Between all of the corporate battles and car talk, viewers won’t feel lost or lose investment because of the energy the dialogue has and that it never treats viewers like they’re dumb. There’s very little handholding and very little jargon so it perfectly finds a balance to dig deep into Shelby and Miles’ journey to Le Mans. Once we get there, though, and even really before, the film hits it adrenaline pumping beats excellently as Mangold make you feel the intensity of racing. The racing is edited together perfectly to create a smooth experience and there’s so much emotion behind it that’s built from how much you grow to love Shelby and Miles that it’s nearly impossible to not be fully invested until finish flag starts flying.
However, all of this greatness is nearly ruined by choices that feel out of character and a lackluster wrap up that comes in the film’s finale. Look, I can appreciate the importance of historical accuracy and if the way the film ends is how Shelby and Miles’ story ends, then that’s what happened. The problem, though, is that there’s a decision that Miles makes at Le Mans that is totally out of character and doesn’t fit the arc the film presents. The film never attempts to justify why he does this and tries to make it seem like viewers are supposed to feel okay or even good about what happens even though the entire film has essentially told us not to be. Not to mention, the last ten minutes or so tonally feel like they’re part of different movie and the wrap up goes so quickly that it’s hard to feel emotional about it. Even for all of the high points that Ford v Ferrari brings, this ending leaves me a little disappointed and I always think of what could’ve been if things went different.
Even though it nearly the kind of film that’s completely foiled by a bad ending, Ford v Ferrari hits a new gear in what racing films can achieve. It’s full of passion, drive, and fast-paced racing that’s perfect on the big screen. There’s no doubt that the film will be a big name in awards talk, especially Bale and Damon, and will please anyone looking for a story about passionate people working past corporate scrutiny.