“Ford v Ferrari” (2019)
Running time: 152 minutes
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller
Directed by: James Mangold
Featuring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone and Ray McKinnon
Carroll Shelby: “We’re lighter, we’re faster, and if that don’t work, we’re nastier.”
Released this week is what I consider to be one of the films of the year as well as an example of what can be accomplished in the studio system when an original period piece has an experienced behind the camera and in front of the camera talent in the form of the criminally underrated “Ford v Ferrari” (2019). Films like “Ford v Ferrari” are far and few between in two ways, that is the idea of a narrative set around car racing which does not inspire great story telling and a film set around the super-rich pursing something others only watch on television. Of course, the way these obstacles are overcome explains why “Ford v Ferrari” was such a hit with critics as well as making its money back in theatres, while at the same time placing it in the rarefied air of being a non-franchise, non-superhero or action movie released in theatres while gaining a very good audience. In fact this is not even the first racing car movie released this decade that rose to the heights this one did, that being the excellent “Rush” (2013) that was all but ignored but contained some similar elements to this one, in that it was about people first and everything else second, it ended on a touch of reality not found in other sports movies and it had people involved that were at the top of their game in every way.
In terms of “Ford v Ferrari” this is a film very much about people, their very real struggles and of course the idea of big business overtaking everything to rule not only outcomes but the very lives of their employees who actually make these companies up. While the movie is very much about a race at Le Mans, as well as an American company, Ford, that is attempting to redefine itself in a way that will set its course for the future, at the heart there are real people living their lives, trying to survive in a post war world that while there were opportunities for some, they felt boxed in unable to really do what they felt was their calling. In fact, this movie is all about people who start in one place where they are mostly happy, then something happens, in the case of Shelby it is a health crisis, for Ken it is money and for Henry Ford it is the shadow of his father. However, when circumstances mean their own passions coincide they all are able to embrace their own true selves pivoting to triumph in ways they did not foresee with in some cases paying the ultimate price but leaving legacies that live on to this very day.
“Ford v Ferrari” is set in 1963, Ford Motor Company Vice President Lee Iacocca proposes to Henry Ford II to purchase the cash-strapped Ferrari as a means to boost their car sales by participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Enzo Ferrari, however, walks out of the deal, as Fiat offers him a more lucrative deal that allows him to retain his ownership of Scuderia Ferrari. In rejecting the proposed deal with Ford, Ferrari insults the company and its CEO. A furious Ford orders his racing division to build a car to defeat Ferrari at Le Mans. For this task, Iacocca hires Shelby American owner Carroll Shelby, a racing driver who won Le Mans in 1959 but was forced to retire due to a heart condition. In turn, Shelby enlists the help of Ken Miles, a hot-tempered British racer and struggling mechanic.
Directed by James Mangold, “Ford v Ferrari” is a true technical achievement that transcends its genre to become something much more than the sum of its parts. Mangold has become one of the major directors of his generation, along with James Foley who understand the way a plot and narrative come together with major budgets and modern technology to be able to create films that resonate, becoming almost instant classics without trying to repeat themselves within previous genres they were successful in. Along with the director the screenwriters are all experienced in biopics which really shows as there is a efficiency in the story telling that needs to exist with all the characters that need their time to explain motivations and goals within the movie.
“Ford v Ferrari” is very much led by the performances of Matt Damon and Christian Bale who both have been in biopics before but here they go that extra step with a huge amount of jargon and technical information to portray realistically, they also have to get into high speed vehicles and portray that they are completely experienced which they do, it was a shame they were ignored at awards time. There are plenty of other performances that are excellent, for me it is Ray McKinnon as Phil who shines as someone who is one part of Shelby, someone who obviously loves him, understands him but at times has to be his own person as a truth teller. Two other vital roles are performed by both Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe who are Christian Bales wife, and son respectively, they also act as the conduit between what goes onscreen and the audience helping us with narrative and plot points as well as the car racing aspects that may be lost on the uninitiated. The rest of the supporting cast in Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts and Josh Lucas are all as great as one would expect, giving their characters real dimension when others may have played them as one note.
The final elements of “Ford v Ferrari” that make it special are the special effects, stunts and the editing that bring this story together into a cohesive film that shows what perfection can bring and how a group of people are able to come together to create a work that is as special as anything released this year. There have been other car racing films that either overuse CGI effects that look out of place or have real car racing with shots that are always too wide or with actors that look like they are not driving at high speeds. This is never the case in “Ford v Ferrari”, each shot has been meticulously constructed using practical effects with CGI that is incorporated and not over saturated to look inauthentic. The car racing scenes are some of the best ever seen, the way Mangold puts audiences inside vehicles is a testament to his skill as is the humour he shows with support people in the pits, truly exceptional.
I recommend this movie to almost anyone, it is one of those rare movies that on the surface looks to have narrow appeal but once an audience views it the skill and inclusivity of its plot and narrative become apparent quickly. “Ford v Ferrari” is a film about family as well as what it takes to keep that family together in terms of providing while at the same time following a calling and exploiting personal gifts to their fullest. “Ford v Ferrari” also illustrates how original movies can success both critically and commercially from major studios and be quality products. This should be a part of any collection and is easily watched multiple times.