Released: 14th November
Seen: 14th November
In the early 1960s the Ford motor company was having a bit of a hard time. Sure they were financially successful, but Ferrari was still considered the better car even though Ferrari at the time was hemorrhaging money. After the head of Ford, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) was rejected and humiliated in his attempt to purchase a stake in Ferrari he decided on a new plan… humiliating Ferrari by beating them at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race which Ferrari had won for several years running. In order to accomplish this, Ford hires Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the only American who hadwon the Le Mans race but retired due to a heart condition. Since that heart condition means Shelby couldn’t handle the race, he hires his old friend Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to handle the driving. Catch is, Ken’s a bit of a hothead who doesn’t play well with others, especially the bosses at Ford who are almost pointedly trying to abuse and screw over the little guys working for them.
The film follows the several years spent building the perfect race car and the events of the 1966 Le Mans, but none of those events actually really matter for the movie. The movie is really about this strange friendship between Shelby and Miles and it’s that friendship which makes this movie magical. You can write the fanciest plot in the world or create the best visuals known to man (we’ll get to the visuals and plot brilliance later) but those are nothing if your leads aren’t engaging and these two men are some of the most lovable characters on screens right now. Miles especially is just a sheer delight, tough as nails and doesn’t take crap from anyone but will happily stop the world itself to make his son, Peter Miles (Noah Jupe), happy for just a minute. Bale plays him perfectly, it’s another one of Bale’s trademark transformations and he knocks every moment out of the park, which is fortunate because he has a lot of moments and if he didn’t knock them out of the park then the park would get pretty messy. Then there’s Damon who has the harder task of playing the less showy Shelby who basically has to try and keep the plot moving, and god damn is he good. He manages to hold everything together and keep it moving, letting Bale bounce off him without letting go of the spotlight. He has more than a few brilliant moments that just make me so happy, especially since I’ve always liked Damon as an actor and then I started doing reviews and he did both The Great Wall and Downsizing in this time. I’ve been waiting for a chance to praise him and god damn he gave me one. In this film he’s effortlessly charming, funny, he’s in charge of this ship just holding everything together and it’s awesome to watch.
When you go past the incredible acting (which is literally the reason to go see this film) then you realize how brilliant the film is on a visual level. Driving scenes are, generally, a dime a dozen. We’ve seen cars drive around in every possible way and you need to do something pretty special to make them stand out, and this film puts us right in the front seat of a race car going at ludicrous speed so we can feel like we’re a part of the madness. It’s brilliantly shot, you almost never lose track of where Miles’ car is in comparison to everyone else so it’s really easy to get the audience going and hoping that he’ll manage to make it. Every turn, every gear change, every car careening off the road and bursting into flames will get your heart racing as fast as the cars. It’s kind of hard to understate how gorgeous the entire film is, from the big action scenes where cars are going every which way, to the quiet scenes like Miles describing the perfect lap (which will probably be Bale’s Oscar clip when the time comes for that inevitable nomination). Every shot is so good that I’m almost upset by how good it is, a racing movie shouldn’t be this damn good but this one really is just great on all fronts.
Even as someone who isn’t big on racing, or even cars for that matter (they get from point A to point B, that’s the extent of my car knowledge) this film is easy to follow. They never bog the dialogue down in jargon that’d make it inaccessible to anyone, it’s easy to follow the core plot and understand the importance of everything. It’s also really great at building dramatic tension using foreshadowing to have everyone in the audience wondering when a certain event is going to happen and if you don’t know the real story of what happened (I’m going to guess most people don’t have the life stories of Shelby and Miles memorized) then you constantly wonder just when things will go wrong. There’s brilliant setup and character work, I particularly love how they basically make the corporations that lent their name to the film into complete bastards. There’s maybe one likable guy working on the Ford team and he’s such a coward that he never stands up to the asshole bosses who are willing to screw over the guys racing for them. Seriously, most of the films conflict is because one asshole executive doesn’t like Miles for literally no reason other than he isn’t willing to toe the corporate line, even though Miles is literally the best at what he does. It’s almost like the film is pointedly stating that the higher ups in these big companies have no idea what they’re doing and are just amassing wealth by being dicks to people who know what they’re doing.
Ford v Ferrari is a genuinely great movie. You don’t even need to be a racing fan to understand why this one’s special. With stellar lead performances, an engaging story and gorgeous visuals, it’s a treat of a film. It may have taken two and a half hours but it uses every second it’s got to create some rich full characters that you fall in love with and want to see succeed. I’m in awe of how good this movie is and how much I was enjoying myself, and if this is how much I enjoyed it while not being a racing fan then I can’t even begin to imagine how cool this movie would be to someone actually interested in the subject matter.