Ford v. Ferrari is one of those titles that has audiences guessing. Is it about titans of industry and how they affected those around them? Or is it a fast paced race car movie like the trailers suggest? Maybe it is a strong character study anchored by Academy Award winners Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Ford v. Ferrari manages to weave together all three elements in one of the most exciting movies of the year.
Damon and Bale star in a story about how Henry Ford II became obsessed with winning the 24 Hours of La Mans race. Ferrari had a stranglehold on the annual event despite being the smaller company. With the help of Carroll Shelby (Damon) and Ken Miles (Bale), the Ford Motor Company set their sights on doing something that had never been done.
Times may have changed, but there is always an air of distracting machoism and overcompensating masculinity in many sports movies. While the homophobic slurs that were callously thrown around in previous eras are not as prevalent, there is still an underlying current of true “manliness”. This is especially true of movies involving fast cars.
Ford v Ferrari effortlessly removes that feeling. The setting does not involve a good ol boy network and the characters are not just big boys playing with their toys. The story is tense and emotional. The plot deals with relationships and responsibility without ever lowering itself to just being about fast cars and hot women.
Which is not to say the racing scenes are lacking. Ford v. Ferrari has some of the best fast paced action of the year. This is due in part to the emotion director James Mangold injects into these moments. Each race is uncomfortably tense. Once a race begins, the audience is instantly on the edge of their seats. Along with the natural mystery of whether Miles will win the race there is an emotional investment from the audience. These are incredibly powerful moments that will keep audiences engaged.
The story does a great job of touching on a number of sub-plots. Within the driving force of the race, there is the running theme of control. This is seen most blatantly in how Ford does not just care about winning; they care about how they look doing it. There is also an undercurrent of taking responsibility. From an opening exchange between Shelby and his doctor to the thrilling climax, characters are constantly challenged to do what is “best”.
The true standout of Ford v. Ferrari is the amazing acting. The entire cast does an excellent job. Josh Lucas excels as Leo Beebe, a marketing executive at Ford. Beebe is clearly the antagonist, though calling him a villain would be too much. Lucas does a great job of playing the role with the right amount of subtle smugness. It is not so much he is an evil man as he his someone who is doing their job the only way they know how.
In a year filled with excellent pairings, Damon and Bale still stand out. Damon is excellent in his role as the cocky Shelby. He carries himself with an assuredness that never comes off as cocky. He simply knows what he wants. Bale is particularly good here. Always good for a memorable performance, he is his usual spectacular self. However, he has a down to earth charm not usually seen from his roles. Miles is arguably the most relatable character in Ford v. Ferrari. He has an infectious smile and attitude that audiences will be drawn to.
Ford v. Ferrari goes beyond the confines of a typical sports movie. Instead, it strives to tell a great story with strong characters. Ideas are neatly tied into the overarching narrative. The performances are some of the best of the year, while the movie will keep audiences watching until the checkered flag drops.