Christian Bale as Ken Miles
Directed by James Mangold
In the 1960s, Ford finds itself losing ground in the American car market. Henry Ford II challenges his employees to come up with an idea to save the company. When Lee Iacocca presents his idea, it is considered bold and brash. He proposes that they entice American male buyers by sponsoring race teams. Having the Ford name associated with sex appeal and victory, Iacocca believes their sales will improve. And to win races, he suggests they purchase the nearly bankrupt Ferrari company.
When they approach Enzo Ferrari, they find him to be less than thrilled at the proposition. In fact, he openly insults them and takes another offer of a buyout from Fiat. But Henry Ford II takes the rebuff personally and commits to putting together a racing team that can win the 24 hour Le Mans race in 1966. To do that, they hire the only American who has won the Le Mans race – Carroll Shelby.
Unable to race due to health reasons, Shelby hires Ken Miles to be his driver. The man knows how to race and knows the cars inside and out. Racing is his passion. However, he’s everything that Ford doesn’t want in a driver. He’s rude, disrespectful, and a hothead. But if this unlikely combination of corporate suits and racing rebels are to beat Ferrari at his own game, they must find a way to work together.
You don’t have to be a fan of racing or a history buff to enjoy Ford v Ferrari. There’s something here for everyone. It’s one of those rare films that’s not only well-made cinema but a crowd-pleaser as well.
Most notable are the performances with Christian Bale leading the cast as Ken Miles. He’s a flawed character but a likable one nevertheless. He’s a self-destructing hothead yet an incredibly skilled driver. He leads his family into financial disaster yet he’s a loving husband and father. He’s deeply distrustful of the Ford suits yet he manages to work with them to create automotive history. That mix of strengths and flaws make him a character you can’t take your eyes off of when he’s on the screen. We already knew Christian Bale was an excellent actor but comparing his performance here to recent roles as Dick Cheney in Vice or even his role as Batman, you appreciate his ability to transform for any character.
While Christian Bale grabs the spotlight, Matt Damon is equally noteworthy as Carroll Shelby. I saw Ford v Ferrari in Houston so his performance as the colorful Texan played quite well here. Shelby is bold and unintimidated by anybody, but heart issues prevent him from doing what he loves. He’s very professional and the face that Ford wants to deal with, yet he’s mischievous and willing to throw caution into the wind when the time calls for it. And despite his tough exterior, he has a soft heart. Damon’s performance is enthralling by itself, but when you pair it with Bale as Miles you have a combination that becomes one of the great big-screen brother relationships.
The supporting cast is quite strong as well. Every single character has a memorable moment to shine. Caitriona Balfe stands out as Mollie Miles, Ken’s wife. She’s tough, funny, and loving. You are sympathetic to her as she alternately loves Ken and wants to strangle him. Noah Jupe from A Quiet Place is also good as Peter Miles, Ken’s son. While the relationship between Miles and Shelby makes this feel like a buddy movie, it is equally a father-son move thanks to the performance of Jupe and Bale together. Fans of Jon Bernthal will enjoy seeing him as Lee Iacocca and his interactions between Ford and Ferrari are some of the funnier moments in the movie. Tracy Letts is also great as Henry Ford II. He’s a big, arrogant, rich blowhard, but there’s a moment in the film when that exterior unexpectedly drops and he has a genuine moment with Shelby that makes him human. It’s impressive that within the span of 2 minutes you can go from disliking the character to actually empathizing with him. And finally, Josh Lucas is delightfully evil as Leo Beebe. He’s the true villain of the film and Lucas excels at making the audience despise him.
As noteworthy as all the performances are, the action is most what likely will draw people to the theater. The racing scenes are thrilling and beautifully choreographed. Even if you know nothing about racing, you’ll be able to follow what’s going on as the tension escalates. People in the theater literally cheered as the races unfolded. And while the movie is over 2 hours long, the time flies by as you’re utterly engrossed by the drama unfolding at Le Mans. The scenes ultimately help make Ford v Ferrari one of the best racing movies ever made.
When this movie ended, I noted several interesting things. First off, I drove way too fast going home. Second, my sons who watched the movie with me started Googling information on Shelby, Ford, and Miles and wanted to learn more about that part of automotive history. Finally, the film has a bittersweet ending that I found audience members reacting to differently. Some saw it as a cautionary tale about dealing with the Devil (i.e large corporations) and how they will screw you. Others saw it as a story about finding happiness and peace no matter what life throws at you. The ending was kind of a Rorschach test that everybody perceives differently, and I find that the mark of a great movie. If it sticks with you long after you leave the theater, it’s great filmmaking.
What Didn’t Work:
I quite enjoyed Ford v Ferrari so anything I say here is just a nitpick.
I was a bit underwhelmed by the music in the film. When they played vintage rock from the era, it was great. But in the climactic race scenes, the music had a quirkier tone to it that felt more appropriate for a TV episode than an intense racing movie on the big screen.
I also hoped the credits would show footage of Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles, and the other people portrayed in the story. Instead, it was one photograph, a little text, and then the end credits. I was quite disappointed it didn’t have more.
The Bottom Line:
Ford v Ferrari is well worth checking out on the big screen and a good viewing option for the family on a holiday week. I expect it will get a lot of awards recognition at the end of the year, so check it out to see what the hype will be about.
Ford v Ferrari opens Friday, November 15!