Watching cars, driven by attractive stars, zoom down tracks constructed for giant and white knuckle third acts is nothing new to film. Race movies are a genre probably as equally as old and beloved as Western or Spy films. It takes a lot to reinvigorate something like a race car film. However, James Mangold ("Logan," "Walk the Line") has done just that. “Ford v. Ferrari” is a fabulous two-and-a-half-hour long epic that's as thrilling to watch as it is to feel.
Matt Damon ("The Martian," "Good Will Hunting") and Christian Bale ("American Psycho," "The Dark Knight") prove to be a fabulous duo, working extremely well off each other. There’s a complicated friendship between the two and it's communicated so well that it feels inconspicuously real. The coolness and collected, boiling under the surface rage of Damon’s Carroll Shelby is the perfect counterpart to the overblown, explosive passion of Bale’s Ken Miles.
Jon Bernthal ("The Walking Dead," "The Wolf of Wall Street") also pulls in a wonderful subdued performance as Ford’s VP Lee Iacocca. He clearly feels for Miles and Shelby, and wants to help them, but has his hands tied due to his duties to the company. Tracy Letts ("The Post," "Lady Bird") delivers a great supporting role as Henry Ford II, the CEO of Ford, and Caitriona Balfe ("Super 8," "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance") is a scene stealer as Mollie Miles, Ken’s wife.
Each race is shot with such delight and life threatening precision that it makes it a literal joy to behold. Miles’ real life ability to push his cars as far as they’re able to go is excellently communicated here thanks to cinematography from Phedon Papamichael ("Nebraska," "Walk the Line"). Marco Beltrami ("3:10 To Yuma," "Logan") and Buck Sanders ("Velvet Buzzsaw," "The Hurt Locker") score the races and quieter moments with the gentle strums of guitars and jazz instruments, delivering an undeniable feeling of Americana to the proceedings
Not only is the intensity of each throttle rattling moment incredible, but the emptiness of some of the races also provides a wonderful kind of yearning. The yearning and loneliness that can come from being so excellent in a particular aspect is one of the film’s moment unexpected delights.
Also unexpected is the fact that this is not a film about racing. Yes, it's a film about people who race, but that isn’t what the film is about. This is a movie about creative types, expertly disguised as a movie about cars that go fast
Numerous moments are motivated by the sheer desire to create something as pure as possible, constantly interfered with by the suits sitting up top. Even when there is an attempt to do things right, there’s an element of betrayal from the ones funding the small creatives types that echoes throughout the entire film.
Yes, it might seem like a red-blooded American made film, and it is. But it also manages to show a little bit of the darker side of the American grown factory company. Miles and Shelby are quintessential American types, and their fight to maintain their creative and moral integrity while also working for big business is engaging at all times.
Screenwriters Jez Butterworth ("Edge of Tomorrow," "Get On Up"), John-Henry Butterworth ("Edge of Tomorrow," "Get On Up") and Jason Keller ("Mirror Mirror," "Machine Gun Preacher") deliver some truly clever dialogue, and build a film with just as many white knuckle scenes of speed as there are smaller moments. They understand a basic, but extremely important writing detail; the races will be better if the characters are invested in, and build as much detail and meat on their bones as possible.
The quieter moments wherein characters are given time to just ruminate on the aspects of their creative lives versus their personal ones lend the film an element of gravitas. Miles’ talking to his son about the perfect lap, and Miles’ son talking to Shelby about their friendship might just be more palpable than the race sequences themselves.
This is a relentlessly entertaining film, from frame one, that sucks you into the creative plight of two men, determined to be as good as they possibly can be at what they do. It’s expertly shot, with a unique musical score and a sense of purpose and emotional weight that comes out of nowhere for the kind of film it is. This is a wonderful film on nearly every level. “Ford v. Ferrari” sails over the finish line with flying colors. 5/5