Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe
Creativity, at times, gets sacrificed within a huge conglomeration. If looking at the film landscape, the most daring stories are told by smaller distributors and production companies as compared to the major studios. That constant push and pull define the two men of this film as they attempt to pull off the impossible and defeat Ferrari.
After not being able to purchase Ferrari, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) of Ford Motor Company enlists Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to create a car to defeat the Italian car company at the 24-hour race, Le Mans. Shelby has to battle the image the Ford executives want in a driver to get the best driver he knows, Ken Miles (Christian Bale).
This film has received the label of “dad movie,” which typically revolves around middle-aged men achieving excellence through doing manly things. Many sports, war, and action films fall into that category. Ford v Ferrari earns this label and executes it very well. With all of the boundary-pushing stories that are released throughout the year, it feels great, at times, to get formulaic but proficiently made films in the theater.
The most impressive aspect of this production belongs to its technicals. The implementation of sound during the racing scenes were enthralling and prevented them from getting boring or repetitive. As mentioned above, Le Mans consists of 24-hours of driving and there must be an injection of energy or else the audience is left looking at Christian Bale’s face for all of those laps. The sound mix combines the score with the revving of the car as it transports the audience in and out of the vehicle to further build up the suspense of the race. The technical work is quite excellent as it should be for a film focused on racing.
The two lead performances by Bale and Damon demonstrate great chemistry. Their friendship serves as one of the great bromances in recent years, as they have immense respect for each other and a drive to succeed. Certainly something every dad can get behind. Bale works with some kind of accent as he continues to defy logic with what comes out of his mouth. His character, Ken Miles, represents the wild card of the two, willing to blow things up for the integrity of the sport. Damon’s character Shelby plays by the rules most of the time and tries to navigate the line between creative freedom and abiding by corporate interests. Their clash provides the most human moments because they have the same goal but go about it in different ways.
Ultimately, this film puts Americans and Ford Motor Company in an underdog role, which does not happen commonly. This large institution dominated in production but could not succeed in the shiny department of bringing in trophies. Shelby wants to pursue creativity within the system and thus has to contend with the men unwilling to see it the same way and make decisions with the scope of profits. Where the film loses some of its shine lies in its cartoonish depiction of this system trying to drown out that creative spirit. Josh Lucas portrays Leo Beebe, a Ford executive, who could care less about actually winning the race, except his boss has a vested interest. Beebe represents a side of corporate America that sees creative ventures only for what they can provide the company rather than the feat itself. A perspective both Shelby and Miles loathe. Josh Lucas’s performance seems a bit overplayed to the point that he became a mustache-twirling caricature of no real substance. Beebe would only disapprove of what the artists believed was right just to have a villain this film never really needed.
James Mangold continues to demonstrate his ability to create exceptional studio films like this one, Logan, and 3:10 to Yuma among others bolster his impressive resume. He works well within the studio system and has become almost like Carroll Shelby in the film being able to mix artistry with studio desires. Ford v Ferrari tells a formulaic story but does so in a proficient manner that pleases crowds and rakes in money for studios. It does not seek to challenge but to tell an inspiring story of American innovation and grit.