Movie review: Buckle up, ‘Ford v Ferrari’ is a riveting ride
The race-car drama, “Ford v. Ferrari,” has more under the hood than hot rods and hunky men. Oscar-winners Christian Bale and Matt Damon make even non-gear-heads care about how Ford Motor Co. strove to show the world it was faster than anything produced by Ferrari. Kiss my tread marks, Enzo!
Director James Mangold - working from a script by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller - sticks to the nuts-and-bolts formula of an underdog prevailing against all odds. In this case, the venue is the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, considered the race of all endurance races. But there’s more than just that in the tank. “Ford v. Ferrari” is about the human spirit, ingenuity and overcoming obstacles in pursuit of greatness - and sticking it to The Man.
You’d be tempted to label it a rivalry between two motoring behemoths, but then don’t you need to win a few - even one - to constitute a rivalry? From 1960 to 1965, the famous Prancing Horse had danced all over its American cousins. Then there are the perceptions of each company: Ford, the builder of boat-sized station wagons, and Ferrari, makers of fast, sleek sports cars favored by the stars.
The movie is a showcase for Damon and Bale, both portraying real-life pedal-to-the-metal competitors bumping up against each other AND the “suits” at Ford over how best to build winning race cars. Damon sports a Texas twang as legendary car designer Carroll Shelby, a previous Le Mans winner, hired by Ford to build the GT40. Bale is journeyman driver Ken Miles, the hothead Brit Shelby hopes will be Ford’s ticket to victory against Ferrari’s “unbeatable” 330 P3.
The action thrives on Shelby and his frenemy, Miles, going toe to toe, throwing down in the grass, flinging food at each other or trading put-downs and talking shop about torque, drag and horsepower. In spite of all the animosity, there’s a palpable brotherly love and mutual respect that lesser actors might not convey. They are clearly having fun.
It’s not just the leads. Mangold is equally generous with the supporting players, particularly Tracy Letts, (Showtime’s “Homeland,” “Lady Bird”) as titan of industry, Henry Ford II. Already the owner of Tonys for best play (“August, Osage County”) and best actor (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”), Letts is a shoo-in for a supporting Oscar nomination. He expounds the Deuce’s win-at-all-costs attitude, ordering Shelby to “go to war” against rival Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), who calls Ford “fat” and “pig-headed.” The indignation! But it is Ford’s blubbering meltdown after riding top speed in the GT40 (the “40” representative of the machine’s low, 40-inch profile) around the test track that’s worth the price of admission. “I had no idea,” he weeps.
Jon Bernthal (“The Punisher”) plays a young Lee Iacocca, hot off overseeing the development of Ford’s hugely successful Mustang. Josh Lucas (“Sweet Home Alabama”) plays the race-team leader with just the right amount of boot-licking smarm. Child actor of the moment, Noah Jupe (“Honey Boy”), is Miles’ young son, and Caitriona Balfe (“Outlander”) is Miles’ supportive wife, a woman with some driving skills of her own.
The filmmakers use heart, humor and pathos to keep their movie revved, paying off with the climatic race, which plays for more than a half-hour. It IS a 24-hour race, after all. And Mangold (“Logan”) knows how to put us right into the driver’s seat - without CGI or green screen. He also employs close-ups and street-level angles that place you so deep into the action you can smell the exhaust. See you at the finish line.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
“Ford v Ferrari”
Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Josh Lucas, Jon Bernthal, Noah Jupe, Caitriona Balfe.
(PG-13 for some language and peril.)