The passion, exhilaration and acceleration of the 24 Hours of Le Mans raceway track is captured in all its glory in James Mangold’s bold and daring new vision in Ford v Ferrari, which charts the true story of a small team of rebels who decided to take on the impossible.
Based on the true story of the visionary American car designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and the fearless British-born driver Ken Miles (Bale), who together battled corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford Motor Company and take on the dominating race cars of Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966.
With Ford v Ferrari, director James Mangold (Logan, Walk The Line) puts everything up on the big screen here and the result is a film of incredible vision and scope as he tells the ultimate story of David vs Goliath. Placing his audience right on the front line of the race tracks of the mid-1960s, Mangold tells a gripping story of two men, intrepid race car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and maverick driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they did the impossible and tried to dethrone Ferrari as the king of Le Mans. With his film, Mangold captures the very essence of the macho competitiveness of the track and it makes for one hell of a rush. His work on Ford v Ferrari is a love letter to the power of racing and those who give their lives to proving that there’s no limit to how fast you can go.
In making this film it’s clear that Mangold had one burning vision: to place his audience right at the heart of the action. And he does just that. The film’s racing scenes are sharp, swift and charged with adrenaline, and Mangold and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael place the action right at the heart of the car chases and crank up the acceleration. Whether it’s the arching corners of Daytona or the power of the Mulsanne Straight, which Christian Bale’s Ken Miles repeatedly guns down, again and again, Mangold absolutely goes for it and there are plenty of moments where you’ll be holding your breath. I can’t remember a piece of cinema that captures the essence of the racing experience quite like Ford v Ferrari, and the throttle doesn’t let up for a moment.
Mangold has assembled one hell of a talented cast for this one and leading the pack is superstar Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, the legendary automotive designer who was charged to achieve the impossible. Damon’s Shelby is a straight-up Cowboy, and the actor nails Shelby’s iconic Texas twang and is an absolute force of nature here. Comprised of plenty of spark and compelling charisma, Shelby is full-on in his approach to racing and after being tasked by the deuce himself, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to beat Ferrari on the Le Mans track he goes for it with everything he’s got. Damon has a lot of fun in the role of Shelby and he jives well with Bale’s Miles and their pairing makes for one amazing dream team.
Placed directly in the driver’s seat of Ford v Ferrari is revered thespian Christian Bale as Ken Miles, a WWII veteran and maverick driver who isn’t one to play by the rules and who likes to do things his own way. A mercurial character in every sense of the word, Miles is a god behind the wheel, and his obsession with speed and a need for the constant pursuit of excellence makes him Shelby’s choice to take on the Le Mans track. Bale once again morphs his personal character into that of Miles and he’s committed to the part. Not only does he get some time behind the wheel here, but he brings to life the concentration and force of will that makes a champion. He works well beside Damon and you’re constantly smiling thanks to his antics both on and off the track.
With Damon’s Shelby as the brains and Bale’s Miles as the action, the vision of Ford v Ferrari arrives on screen in the form of Jon Bernthal’s Lee Iacocca, a sharp-suited, silver-tongued Ford executive who has a vision and who sees Shelby and Miles as Ford’s way to defeat Ferrari head on at Le Mans. In the role of Iacocca, Bernthal turns in a straight-up cool performance and his slick-talking style gives the film plenty of energy. Bernthal is very much the middle man of the film and acts as the go-between between Shelby and Ford Motors. While he’s got his own battles to fight in the hallways of Ford, he’s the ally that Shelby and Miles need to win this historic race and he does a damn fine job here with his performance.
In terms of its style, Ford v Ferrari is a true underdog story of mythic proportions and Mangold captures the essence of this on-screen. He showcases the impossibility of the task ahead of Shelby and Miles in just how the hell can these guys beat Ferrari with a Ford. Mangold takes us through all the steps as these men build out their plan of attack and step by step, through creativity and ingenuity build up a team and a car, in the now-famous Ford GT40, to take on the track and beat Ferrari at their own game. Gear heads will love the detail that Mangold goes into here within the film, as he takes audiences behind the scenes of how this grand car was conceived and then built to win.
Alongside its gripping tale of motorized competition, Ford v Ferrari also has some serious style to it, and Mangold revels in letting this shine through. Set during the zenith of the 1960s, Ford v Ferrari is packed out with the uber macho cool of the decade and this is recognized through everything from production design and wardrobe, along with the film’s thumping soundtrack which is filled out with classic tunes from the era. All of it builds up a portrait that is easy to lose yourself in and amps up the film’s considerable drama and the action that unfurls from there.
But alongside it’s pumping action scenes and slick production style, Ford v Ferreri is ultimately the story of friendship and brotherhood that is shared between two men. Through their competitive spirit and desire to win, Shelby and Miles form a unique partnership and pairing in this film, and Mangold’s story examines how the two of them came together to be champions and the friendship that is at the heart of this. Both of these men truly trust each other and are willing to go all the way to prove that they can indeed win out in the end and Mangold’s film is a testament to the power that we get when we trust in others and work together for a greater goal.
Ford v Ferrari is filmmaking on a whole other level and those who witness it need to view it on the biggest screen possible. This is an incredible piece of cinema to behold and from its direction to performances, style and on-the-edge track action race scenes, all of it will spin you around for one amazing lap.
Image: Ford v Ferrari