For the past several months, television, as well as sites all over the Internet, have shown the trailer for Ford v Ferrari. The hype of this film has put it in the “must-see” category for movie-going enthusiasts everywhere – myself included. Now finally in theaters, Ford v Ferrari is looking to kick the movie awards season into high gear.
Ford v Ferrari is based on a true story in which the characters of the film are as much A-listers in their respective world as the actors who play them. Matt Damon stars as Carroll Shelby, a famous mechanical engineer who is tasked by an up-and-coming executive at Ford named Lee Iacocca (played by John Bernthal) to develop a race car stronger, faster and with more long-term sustainability than those at rival sports car juggernaut, Ferrari, for the purpose of winning the world famous 24 hour Le Mans Race in France. The driver recruited by Shelby would be a friend of his, a competitive driver turned local mechanic named Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale.
An uphill climb to build such a vehicle, perseverance becomes one of the main lessons to be learned in Ford v Ferrari. Shelby, Miles and Iacocca not only have to create and test the car that’s basically built specifically to defeat Ferrari at their own game, but they also have to overcome the obstacles of certain politics within the Ford hierarchy, mainly from Henry Ford II (played by Tracy Letts) and his right-hand man, Leo Beebe (played by Josh Lucas). Lucas plays an excellent antagonist, to the point where his lack of support for the major players involved within his own team, as well as his negative commentary throughout the film make you want to run him over at high speed with a ’63 Ford Mustang. Letts does a great job as well of portraying Ford as a powerful boss who, while he may have an alpha personality, also has a soft enough heart and smart enough mind to listen to the advice of those around him if it will help his bottom line.
I’m a big fan of Jon Bernthal. He always finds a way to steal scenes from his well-known counterparts in films he’s in, and I think it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a superstar himself. But the stars of the film are those who have the top billing – Matt Damon and Christian Bale. As good as Damon was in the film playing Shelby, the blue-collar genius turned white-collar rebel, Bale is the star of the film. Ken Miles, the mechanical savant and driving legend, may become a household name due to Bale’s astounding portrayal of him in this film.
As someone who is not a racing aficionado to say the least, it was a relief to realize that the Ford v Ferrari script, written by Jason Keller with both Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, was engaging and fun enough to the point where I didn’t have to be. On top of that, director James Mangold found a way to make a beautiful movie about a niche, rugged sport like auto racing without being cheesy or chauvinistic, as one may assume a movie about auto-racing would inevitably become. Don’t judge the book by the cover here. This movie has enough tread on its tires for everyone, fans of racing or not, to get around all of the sharp turns and have a good time watching and learning about this mostly under-told story.
I will say, though, that I think there is a lack of character depth and development in this movie. The line is clearly drawn between the good guys and the bad guys, and for the most part each character stays in their lane. I consider that a legitimate flaw, which could wind up being a negative that costs the film when it comes to obtaining award nominations.
Ford v Ferrari is not a movie about auto-racing. It’s so much more than that. It’s about a unique bond between “frienemies” who, no matter how much they may get into macho tussles, always have each other’s back and best interest at heart. It’s about a father whose love for cars and racing becomes a common life-long bond between he and his son. Above all, it’s a film with true grit that preaches about the benefits of determination, loyalty and commitment to a cause. Despite my issue with its lack of strong character arcs, a script telling an awesome true story with spellbinding performances by its award-winning cast could still be enough to land Ford v Ferrari in several winner’s circles this movie awards season.
MATTER RATING: 7.5/10
OSCAR SCALE: 7/10 (Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)
BY: CHRIS GUEST