Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari delivers some of the greatest speed-filled scenes ever filmed.

If you’re not first, you’re last. 

Yes, that was the tagline of the Will Ferrell-led racing romp Talladega Nights, but it applies to Ford v Ferrari, another movie about fast cars and the men who build and drive them.

The film centers on Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), famous for his Shelby Cobra design, and brilliant hothead British driver Ken Miles (another amazing performance by Christian Bale) working together to do one thing: beat Enzo Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, winning, consequently, bragging rights as the best sports car in the world.

The action begins with a history lesson, that I found fascinating. It’s 1963, and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is so disappointed with the status quo at the Ford Motor Company that he tells his entire staff to walk home instead of driving — maybe the stroll will inspire them with an idea to make Ford modern.

Luckily for Ford II, his VP Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) has a solution: Make sports cars to compete with the likes of Ferrari. As luck has it, Ferrari had reportedly spent so much money on its racing division that it was on the verge of bankruptcy. Cut to higher-ups of Ford traveling to Italy to convince Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) to sell the company. 

The notion of Ferrari coming that close to being owned by Ford is mind-blowing. What’s even more mind-blowing is how close the deal came to happening — up until the ultimate deal breaker: Ferrari would no longer be in charge of the racing team. Next, add some insulting words from Ferrari about Ford II and his company, and we have our revenge story. 

It becomes Ford’s goal to prove to the Italian brand that his company can make the best sports car.

Shelby is hired to get the job done (with a decent Southern accent by Matt Damon; even though it fell out a few times, I thought he did a good job). Shelby’s choice for the man behind the wheel of this not-yet-built car is Miles, an eccentric, foul-mouthed, don’t-care-about-corporate-suits car man.

This comes at the distress of Ford II’s right hand man, Leo Beebe (played by Josh Lucas, who delivers a perfectly face-punchable performance), a constant thorn in Shelby’s plans. Even though Miles’ involvement is allowed, Beebe goes out of his way on several occasions to take him out of the driver seat. 

The drama is wrapped up in the omnipresent theme of American ingenuity that surround many tales from the era. The quest to beat Ferrari feels a lot like NASA’s quest to get a man on the moon. Honestly, beating Ferrari kinda seems more challenging.

James Mangold directs the film with perfect efficiency. No line is unnecessary. No scene is unimportant. The movie is as tight as the perfect lap that Miles fantasizes about with his son.

The recreation of the 24 Hours of Le Mans track was masterful. Drivers involved with this race are part of teams to drive the track through the wee hours and through horrid weather. Think you can make turns on a wet track while going 150 miles per hour? Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael makes the race stick, delivering some of the greatest speed-filled scenes ever filmed. This has to be what it felt like seeing the chase scenes in Bullitt in 1968. 

The movie isn’t without annoying moments. There’s the head-scratching scene where Mollie Miles’ (Caitriona Balfe) anger toward her husband as he considers working with Ford strains credulity. Just a few scenes prior, she seems to encourage her man to go after his dreams. Still, as soon as you see images of Ford’s GT40, it becomes easy to forget such missteps.

Mangold, as he did with 2017’s excellent Logan, gets the best out of his cast. The result is a movie that is much more than just car porn. It’s a stirring rumination on the unwavering zeal of driven artists, and their struggle to make the people who hold the purse strings understand and support them.

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