During every Oscar season, it is mandatory to have a bunch of historical epics that attract buzz in the film community. Ford v. Ferrari is one of the newest products of this annual routine, and it deserves much of the acclaim it is getting. This film is a very high-budget and lively drama that will no doubt attract mainstream audiences just as much as it will critics. In fact, it is more of a comedy than anything else, with dramatic and action sequences in between to spice things up. Ford v. Ferrari is a strong entry from acclaimed director James Mangold that has two fantastic leading performances from Matt Damon and Christian Bale, and some explosive racing sequences which are some of the most gripping of 2019. However, the motivation behind the action isn’t strong enough to elevate this film beyond being just a good biographical thriller.
The events take place in 1966; Ferrari was dominating the racing world with American car manufacturers, like Ford, falling behind. Ford executives wanted desperately to change this ongoing trend, for it would increase their credibility in both the racing community and with general consumers. The end game is to win La Mans–the hardest and most high-level racing event in the world. They hire two of the most prolific racers/manufacturers they can find: Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale). However, these two are at odds with the executives who are controlling their every move, as well as disagreeing with each other’s methods. Thus, a bumpy road to the hopeful victory at La Mans ensues, with everything from violent car crashes to committee meetings along the way.
In the end, while this movie may be titled Ford v. Ferrari, it is truly a conflict between Shelby and Miles and the executives who are in it for monetary gain, not for the passion of car racing. Storyline-wise, where the movie thrives is the relationship between Shelby and Miles through all of the corporate conflict. Bale and Damon play off each other perfectly, and they compliment the overall tone of the movie with their constant banter and racing expertise. Damon is the straight-shooter of the two–he always knows how to navigate a situation towards his best interest while also having great knowledge of cars. Bale, however, has more chances to shine because he is the rogue animal of the two; he is always doing something wild and outlandish, but he knows cars better than anybody working. While Damon has more emotional scenes to nail, Bale steals every scene he is in with his relentless charisma. If these two weren’t so engaging in their respective roles, then the movie would have likely dragged far more than it already does.
What ends up being the most compelling and impressive part of Ford v. Ferrari is James Mangold’s fantastic direction of the racing sequences, particularly the end La Mans set piece. This high-octane thrill ride lasts somewhere around 30 to 40 minutes, and every second is brilliantly helmed. There is not an ounce of CGI throughout the racing scenes, and the quality is significantly higher because of this decision from Mangold and crew. For much of the scenes one feels as if they are in the car with Miles when he completes his record-setting laps.
What ends up holding this film back from greatness is a mix between the pacing and the characters. Even though the two hour and 30 minute run-time flies by, it still drags quite a bit during the first half. A lot of time is spent on board meetings and discourse between executives, and this makes the entire first hour somewhat forgettable. It also causes every single character besides Shelby and Miles (except Miles’ son) to be either cliché or boring. So, furthermore, this makes all the scenes without them not worth keeping. Yes, this movie isn’t truly about the “Ford v. Ferrari” aspect, but it would have been helpful if that part was interesting. Instead, the audience is forced to latch onto Shelby and Miles because nothing else is memorable or attention-grabbing.
The real crime here though, is that even Shelby and Miles aren’t too interesting on an emotional level. One scene is shown regarding Shelby’s heart condition, and Miles has a son that anchors him down, but there aren’t particularly hard-hitting motives behind their urge to win La Mans. This makes the film as a whole never quite achieve what its high-reaching budget and overall ambition seem to be shooting for. While it does remain historically accurate and the struggles shown are never falsified for dramatic effect, more time could have been spent on showing what the two main characters were overcoming in order to get to victory. Eventually, some interest is added near the third act, but this doesn’t stop everything previous from lacking in this department.
With that being said, Ford v. Ferrari is still worth the time to see the personality that Bale and Damon bring to their roles, and to experience some of the best racing sequences in recent film. This movie isn’t everything that most critics are saying it is, but it also doesn’t fail to entertain an audience for two and a half hours. None of the jokes or quick jabs fail to bring laughter to viewers, and the chemistry between Bale and Damon brings everything else to life around them. Most may not find issue with certain aspects of Ford v. Ferrari, because despite its flaws, it still displays a cast and crew that never ceases to bring their A-game.
I give Ford v. Ferrari a B.