The sport of motor racing has made for many a fine film over the years, and the latest, which takes the biopic route, is Ford v Ferrari. So, how does this particular entry in the genre run? Is it smooth motoring, or does it hit a few potholes?
From 1960 to 1965, Ferrari beat all challengers at the prestigious Le Mans 24-hour race. Meanwhile, in the USA, the Ford Motor Company were worriedly watching their sales dwindle. Their solution? Racing wins! The public want their own part of that winning feeling, and sales had been proven to increase following racetrack success. The only problem? Ford didn’t actually have a racecar.
So, thinking laterally, they tried to buy out the financially floundering Ferrari. This didn’t work, after Enzo Ferrari snubbed Henry Ford II and sold out to fellow Italian carmaker Fiat. Incensed, the Ford boss went on the warpath. They needed a car. Which meant that they needed somebody to develop it – and somebody to drive it.
Ford v Ferrari – aka Le Mans ’66 in some markets – tells a part of this story, focusing intently on two key participants in the rise of Ford as a 1960s motor racing success story. First, there was Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a former racing driver who, since having to retire due to a heart condition, had gone into car development. If you haven’t heard of the Shelby Cobra or GT500 Mustang then you’re just not a car person. The second participant? British racing driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), now running a car workshop in the US and putting American noses out of joint pretty much whenever he encounters anybody resembling a potential customer.
Given a car based on the British Lola Mk6 to work with, the pair soon team up to construct and hone what will become known as the Ford GT40 into a genuine Le Mans contender. The road there is fraught with bumps though, not least of all with the marketing types at Ford. But, unless you know the true story already, to tell anymore would spoil just some of the fun that’s in store here.
If you go into Ford v Ferrari expecting a bunch of incredible and exhilarating racing footage then you’ll be pleased – at times it plays out like Pixar’s Cars for adults – but the movie is much more than just that. It’s the sort of very human underdog story that will have appeal to even the least petrol-headed of viewers. A big part of this humanity comes down to the interwoven story of Miles’ family – his sometimes remarkably supportive wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and car-obsessed young son Peter (A Quiet Place‘s Noah Jupe).
“…at times it plays out like Pixar’s Cars for adults.”
While Damon and Bale share top-billing, this is very much the latter’s film. After stacking on all manner of pounds for last year’s Vice he’s back to a more normal weight, if not veering into gaunt territory. Meanwhile, it looks like Damon got ALL of the on-set pies… Beyond this, however, it’s a pure, gimmick-free performance from Bale that is certain to garner award season attention – and deservedly so.
Coupled with some arresting supporting turns – in particular Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II who, in one of the film’s funniest sequences, basically gets to soil himself in the passenger seat of a GT40 – Ford v Ferrari is a classically-styled two-and-a half hour film that’s paced so expertly by director James Mangold (Logan) that it flies by. Much like a GT40 passing a Ferrari back in 1966…
In cinemas: November 14, 2019
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe
Directed by: James Mangold