A pulse-rattling love-letter to the euphoria of motorsports, Ford v Ferrari is vehicular poetry – pitting the two car legends against each other in a tale of emotion, loss, gravitas, corporate-greed, egocentrism, & pure adrenaline. 8/10.
Plot Synopsis: American automotive designer Carroll Shelby & fearless British race car driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary vehicle for the Ford Motor Co. Together, they plan to compete against the race cars of Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Le Mans, ’60’s. Ford v. Ferrari:
An Impossible Dream
Le Mans, 1960’s. Enzo Ferrari and his surgical legion of Scuderia establish a racing dynasty unlike anything the world has ever seen. A plucky business exec from the Ford Motor Co. named Lee Iacocca suggests a remedy to the hard times of declining profits and corporate sorrows: a partnership with stylism & racing heritage powerhouse Ferrari to entice a coming-of-age generation of Baby Boomers with money in their pockets and desire for non-boring, visual-centric American cars.. and the rest is history. Coming fresh off a subversive comic book-film genre innovator boasting neo-Western undertones Logan, James Mangold excited the film community with the announcement that his next project would tackle the car story to end all car stories – Le Mans ’66. Though there have been shimmers of brilliance before in car-based films like Need For Speed, Bullitt, Gone In 60 Seconds, & the (early) Fast & Furious films as far as racing sequences go – gearheads have been anxious at the wheel for a film that would not come in middle-of-the-pack in storyline; a film that could somehow balance its automotive thrills with intellectual ones for the complete package. That achievement is finally here, and arrives a beauty at the starting line like the luscious red 1966 Ferrari 330 P3 in France. A pulse-rattling love-letter to the euphoria of motorsports, Ford v Ferrari is vehicular poetry – pitting the two car legends against each other in a tale of emotion, loss, gravitas, corporate greed, & pure adrenaline brought to life through spectacular Bale-led performances, meticulous direction, & some of the most stunning race sequences ever achieved in filmmaking.
David v. Goliath, Reversed
The instant brand recognition and pedigree of car fame we’re talking here draws in anyone who’s ever even had a poster of supercars before. Mangold handles the lore of the two legends – especially Ferrari: likely the greatest car badge & brand to ever exist – with great skill and precision as cued as gear-shifts around the tightest corners. We’re introduced to a landscape wherein Ferrari is still a relatively-small operation bankrupt and putting out few (albeit stunning) cars per year – but is fueled by one thing: a Le Mans dynasty showcasing their proud Italian heritage in vehicular dominance as the ultimate bragging rights for racecar manufacturers. Across the ocean, Ford is also having some trouble moving motorcars to a new generation that wants some more pizzazz getting from point A to B – but still sells millions of (exponentially-cheaper) units to Ferrari’s one. Iacocca’s aforementioned pitch of a merger between the two brands to simultaneously-buoy sales falls through spectacularly in the rolling hills of Italy, with an insinuation of Enzo giving up Le Mans being enough to insult him & stoke a fiery rivalry between the two brands to be settled at the racetrack. This a David v. Goliath story almost-reversed, wherein Ferrari is David in volume/resources but Goliath in racing at Le Mans & Ford vice-versa – for a fascinating dynamic just rife with filmic potential the cast & crew seize sure-handedly.
Top-Notch Performances By A Heavy-Hitter Cast Of (Bale-Led) A-Listers
The performances are sensational – led by Bale’s wry, sarcastic, cheeky Ken Miles breathing car knowledge & peddling a dream to be the greatest racecar driver to ever live – while doing so a mechanic at a gas station who can barely make ends’ meat to feed his family. He embodies the American dream and spirit of ingenuity/work ethic that exemplified mid-20th century U.S. values & ideals as the perfect protagonist to this adrenaline-pumping story. Matt Damon’s take on the icon of American driving Carroll Shelby is strong as well – giving him a haunted, tragic portrayal of a man with a love he can’t pursue due to a bad heart and health concerns by a cruel fate’s hands. Damon & Bale’s effortless chemistry and interplay centric around automotive passion carry the show as reminiscent of DiCaprio & Pitt’s in (the equally-sensational) Once Upon A Time In Hollywood this year – both giving their films a buddy-cop/bromance dynamism that anchors the film in something sweet & tangible. Remo Girone’s Enzo Ferrari is bone-chilling as a villainous presence down to even the pinstripes and black hat, Tracy Letts’ (manipulatable) CEO Ford II a nice serving of comic relief as refreshing as a soft-serve, Noah Jupe’s Miles Jr. a surprisingly-effective emotion-inducer as the son who cares about nothing more than his father’s racing exploits, Josh Lucas’ nauseating corporate sell-out fantasically-maddening, & Jon Bernthal’s Iacocca sharky yet endearing enough to be a knockout likeness I wish we saw a lot more of.
Some Of The Most Jaw-Dropping Race Sequences *Ever* Put To Film
From the literal opening seconds of the film are V8’s humming coalescing into a night-set Le Mans Shelby dream sequence, and Mangold lets you know definitively this film is about one thing first and foremost: racing. I would make the argument FvF is the greatest car-based film of All-Time – only remotely rivaled in car reservoir, sequences, & glory by Bullitt & Need For Speed it (predictively) blows away on every other level filmically. Scenes like racing in the rain on the storied French-hallowed ground at Le Mans, navigating mangled car chassis at Daytona, the final desert canyon drive in Arizona begetting a tragic turn of events, & sleepless nights in airport hangars spent dreaming about the ‘perfect lap’ are too stunning to even adequately relate via words: you have to see them to believe them. The racing sequences are immaculately captured through phenomenal 21st-century camerawork in technical wizardry: crisp quick-cuts, inventive shot construction/cinematography, and technological range only today’s resources can provide that make the film feel positively Biblical in epic, fast-tracking, pulse-rattling action thrills it’s downright impossible not to be at the edge of your seat by.
Themes Of Masculinity, Fatherhood, Legacy, Sin, Morality, & Love
The Human Tale: A Parable Of Loss, Emotion, Gravitas, Corporate Greed, & Pure Adrenaline
Perhaps even more impressive than its racing thrills is the serving of emotional gravitas & humanization Mangold & the screenwriters manage to pack in the 2hr30min drive. Themes central to masculinity: fatherhood, legacy, ambition, providing for one’s family, emotion expression, strength, morality, etc. are juggled through the lens of a father-son bond around racecars that touts critical-darling sweet sentiment it would have been almost understandable to have forgotten or overlooked in a Petrol-heavy canvas such as this. The human tale underlying the story is also dazzling and thought-provoking – weaving in a tale of loss, betrayal, & corporate greed amongst all the pure adrenaline in how Ford execs played Miles & Shelby like violins for their own sadistic profit-minded games, only to soil Miles’ once-in-a-lifetime racing achievements for them in awe-inducingly evil fashion of Cain & Abel proportions. This all leads up – through top-tier character development letting us know who these gods of car lore were as people – to the tear-jerking finale that’s Paul Walker in Fast & Furious all over again. Tragic.
Flaws: Side-Characters, More Bernthal, & The End-Framing
Flaws include side characters, more Bernthal, & the (over-elaborate) end framing. Caitriona Balfe’s Mollie Miles is awful – needy, condescending, & borderline-psychotic doing things like threatening her family’s and everyone on the road’s safety driving like a madwoman just because Ken kept one pseudo-secret from her he didn’t even have a final decision on yet. Also, Jon Bernthal’s talents are pretty much wasted by the meager amount of lines and presence he was given. This is even more perplexing given Lee Iacocca’s famed stamp on car history deserving far more exposition than mere cameos in a film based on events he set into motion. Finally, the final framing is stretched far too long; it could’ve ended several times earlier for better closure & effect than being put out of its misery when the moment’s far gone. The best ending would’ve been right after Le Mans with the two icons of American racing walking off into the distance talking about their next project. I might’ve even understood ending it on the tearjerker after the Arizona death sequence. But no, the final scene back at their house is comparatively weak and unnecessary; making it about Shelby when it should’ve absolutely been about Miles after what happened to him over the course of this story.
One Of The Greatest Car Movies Of All-Time: A Film Any Gear Junkie Must See
Overall, Ford v Ferrari is one of – if not THE greatest car movie of All-Time, and a film any gearhead or car junkie must see. The end-framing, lack of enough Bernthal/Iacocca sequences, & Mollie Miles are vexing speed-bumps, but quickly fade into the rear-view window of this sensational, V8-roaring joyride through the annals of racing history and some of the most famed car brands of All-Time. A pulse-rattling love-letter to the euphoria of motorsports, Ford v Ferrari is vehicular poetry – pitting the two car legends against each other in a tale of emotion, loss, gravitas, corporate greed, & pure adrenaline brought to life through spectacular Bale-led performances, meticulous Mangold direction, & some of the most stunning race sequences ever achieved in filmmaking.
Official CLC Score: 8/10