Ford v. Ferrari is about the Ford Motor Company's attempt to make a car that could beat Ferrari's car in The 24-hours at Le Mans road race. They enlist maverick designer Carroll Shelby and hot-headed driver Ken Miles to get the job done. It stars Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, Ray Mckinnon, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, and Tracy Letts. It is directed by James Mangold.
With films like Ford v. Ferrari, genuine story or pathos can be buried deep beneath the technical wizardry, but James Mangold is a terrific director. He always has an eye toward the heart of the matter and what matters are the characters, not the events. With simple establishing shots he can express a mood and give us a great deal of information without overburdening us with spoken information. He's one of the most assured hands behind the camera.
It helps that all of the technical crew has created a gorgeous tableau of sight and sound. From the dynamic camera work of cinematographer Phedon Papamichael to the frenetic pacing of the editing team, all the way to the roars of engines and crowds by the sound team. The film is a masterpiece of moving parts. The excitement is palpable and the adrenaline keeps up and that's not just what's happening on the track.
I love watching incredibly knowledgable people work out problems and come up with solutions. The film is not about giant car companies belting it out for superiority. The real core of the story is innovation against tradition. It functions in that way as a metaphor for art vs. commerce. The grand science of racing a car is more noble that what is essentially selling a car. The grand science of creating films is far and away more noble than marketing, selling, merchandising, and butting in on creative decisions when one isn't naturally creative. Mangold and his writing team may be expressing frustration in that sense as they have all come off of major corporate productions. What frustrates me, though, is a lack of women in the film.
I get it. I do. The major players in this story were men. Historically accurate records will reflect that this is a very male driven story. Yet, there aren't only men in the world and women weren't and aren't only secretaries, translators, wives and mothers. For being the only woman with anything substantial to say and a great foil to Bale's Ken, Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles does excellent with the role she's given. She breathes life into what could have easily been only caricature and archetype. If only the story could have focused on this family more than the fight with "The Deuce" and his minions. I love her dynamic with Bale throughout.
Christian Bale is impeccable as Ken Miles. He's utterly charming even when being a rogue. His scenes on the track giving incredible quips and commentary all his own, mixed with the great fights he picks and the beautiful relationship he has with his son and his wife are all a brilliant pieces of character. At his best, Bale gets into the groove of a supporting character actor, but here he shines and charms as a lead without lots of gadgets and his own, or close to his own, accent. It's a truly magnificent performance and makes you forget everything else as you watch it.
I'm not a "car guy." I'm not even a "car person." Yet, I love a good car movie. Give me the rev of the engine, the adrenaline of the driver's seat, and the drama of the track and I'm in love. Ford v. Ferrari doesn't disappoint and even exceeds my expectations in story, pathos, and that need for speed. I highly recommend it.