CINEMASCOPE: TOP GEAR

November 24, 2019

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When the first trailers of Ford v Ferrari hit the internet, many fans of Ferrari were worried that it would be a pro-Ford movie. They can relax, because Ford v Ferrari isn’t as biased as they may have feared. Meanwhile, Ford fans can stay indifferent because, frankly, there aren’t too many fans of the notoriously unreliable American car manufacturer anyway.

Ford v Ferrari may have marketed itself as a racing film, but it’s more of an old-fashioned character-driven sports drama that lays a foundation in its first act and builds towards a pulsating conclusion. It’s about American engineer and driver Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon), known for the Shelby Mustang and the AC Cobra — two of the most iconic cars ever made — and the temperamental and legendary race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), who was a former British WW II fighter. Ford v Ferrari looks at how the two were hired by the egotistical Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to defeat Ferrari at 1966 Le Mans after Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) had rejected Ford’s offer of a buyout.

In truth, a more accurate title for the film would have been Le Mans ’66, which is what Ford v Ferrari is called in certain European countries. However, ‘Ford v Ferrari’ probably puts more rears in theatre seats, which is fair, considering that the film has a budget of nearly 100 million dollars. These days, anything with that budget that isn’t related to a comic book is a risky proposition for producers and cinemas.

Not that the film doesn’t have fast-paced action. There are some particularly thrilling racing sequences in Ford v Ferrari, especially at the end. I enjoyed how the action kept me on the edge of my seat without resorting to modern tricks. For example, Ford v Ferrari doesn’t resort to shaky-cam or silly edits to make the racing feel exciting. Instead, the film is happy to let us soak in the beautiful cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. It’s truly refreshing, in the age of Fast & Furious, to clearly see and understand what’s happening on-screen while watching a car film.

Brilliant multilayered performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale help director James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari soar

That Ford v Ferrari is a good old-fashioned character-driven Hollywood drama is not surprising, considering that it is directed by James Mangold. From Heavy (1995) to Girl, Interrupted (1999) to Walk the Line (2005) to 3:10 to Yuma (2007) to Logan (2017), the filmmaker has a history of making interesting films that feature strong characterisation.

Not only is Ford v Ferrari thrilling, but it’s humorous, moving and smart. There are unmistakable parallels with the corporate greed of today, as we see filthy rich men use the world and people as their playground.

While all the characters are well-written, the characterisation of Shelby and Miles, and their close yet sometimes confrontational relationship, is especially rich. There’s Shelby, who won the marathon race in 1959, only to learn about a heart condition that prevents him from doing what he was born to do: race cars. Then there’s Miles, who is difficult to get along with but is something of a genius driver.

Not that the film doesn’t have fast-paced action. There are some particularly thrilling racing sequences in Ford v Ferrari, especially at the end.

When Shelby can’t drive anymore, he becomes a car designer. And when he’s approached to help Ford win Le Mans, he brings Miles along for the ride. No one wants to work with Miles, but Shelby knows how to tap his talent. Despite the friction, the two bond over a common passion.

The brilliant multilayered performances by Damon and Bale help Ford v Ferrari hit top gear. The duo has excellent chemistry and should get recognition in the awards season. There are other fine performances as well, including from Tracy Letts. As the unlikable as Henry Ford II, he delivers a surprisingly emotional performance.

Admittedly, some of the storytelling lacks nuance. For example, the characters from Ferrari are distinctly one-note. This nitpicking aside, Ford v Ferrari is the complete package. It has the steel and heart of a very good racing drama, and blows through its 152 minutes runtime in the blink of an eye.

Rated PG-13 for some language and peril

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 24th, 2019