At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Ford v. Ferrari

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Docudrama/ Stars: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon/ Runtime: 152 minutes

I feel that it must be said, but before he decided to take a couple of dips in the comic-book pond courtesy of Logan and The Wolverine, James Mangold was a very diverse and eclectic filmmaker who was quite capable of nimbly dancing through various film genres in a never ending search for compelling characters to make compelling stories out of. For instance back in 2010, he made what looked like a typical Tom Cruise action flick called Knight & Day, but then decided to add a bumbling innocent character in order to throw things for a loop. Perhaps his most famous example is that he chose to go headfirst into, what must’ve looked like, a conventional biopic known as Walk the Line, but then chose to anchor it with two commanding performances courtesy of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon and in the process gave us one of the best music biopics of the past 30 years. Thankfully, Mangold is now back at the helm of a tale of true-blue American ingenuity known as Ford v. Ferrari, and I know that although you may have seen this kind of story before, but I promise you that you haven’t seen it get told this well in a while. Indeed thanks to a duo of powerhouse performances from the 2 leads, a game supporting cast, and truly phenomenal work from the crew, Ford v. Ferrari is a winning tribute to what happens when supreme talents come together in order to accomplish a dream that everyone says that they haven’t got a prayer of pulling off.

The plot is as follows: It’s the late 1960s, and Henry Ford II finds himself facing a serious challenge to his family’s legacy. This is the fact that the Ford brand, a brand seemingly as old as time and as American as apple pie on the 4th of July, is starting to struggle in sales to against an onslaught of cooler, hipper cars from overseas (stop me if that sounds familiar). Nevertheless Ford needs a bold, balls-to-the-wall idea in order to save the company his family built from the ground up, and a young executive named Lee Iacocca has such an idea. What is his idea you may ask? Nothing major; he just wants Ford to go head-to-head against Enzo Ferrari on the global racing circuit, and create a race car that can beat Ferrari at his own game. Intrigued, Ford decides to recruit two men with intimate knowledge of this field to see if such a feat is possible: celebrated automotive designer Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, a stubborn, short-tempered, yet gifted driver who has a seemingly supernatural connection to the automobiles that he gets behind the wheel of. Together the 2 men, along with their support team, will attempt to design such a car that could take them, and Ford, into racing history….

Now to be fair, even if you know the results of the ’66 Le Mans race, I still feel that this film will do an absolutely wonderful job of both captivating and entertaining you with the various highs and lows that go along with the team and their journey to achieve racing greatness. Not to mention, but the film also does a wonderful job of showcasing a spin on the classic narrative of teamwork and ingenuity coming through and working side by side in the face of stifling adversity. This is because not only did Shelby and Miles have to deal with the adversity faced by Ferrari, but they also dealt with conflicts in-house at Ford due to having to repeatedly deal with executives not seeing eye-to-eye with them or with having to repeatedly convince Ford of what needed to be done if he actually wanted to win let alone contend in a race of this magnitude.

Now although the director has managed to recruit two of the greatest male actors working today to play his leads, I nevertheless feel that, to some extent, they are slightly overshadowed by the phenomenal work done by Mangold and his team behind the camera. Indeed I say that because the racing scenes we are treated to in Ford v Ferrari are absolutely exhilarating and breathtaking, with the crew behind this film managing to find new and exciting ways to put us in the driver’s seat of some of the fastest vehicles on the planet at that particular time. Yet while this film is doing a wonderful job of exciting us as audience members by brilliantly showcasing the record-breaking pace of the cars that dare to race on these tracks let alone attempt it, we also find ourselves drawn into this world on a more emotional level as well. This is because the movie takes the time to ensure that we also care deeply about the two men who are doing everything both in their individual and collective power in their attempts to try and make a victory happen let alone have a chance at being possible. It should come as no surprise then that the duo of acting performances that we follow throughout this wild, and crazy journey are nothing short of phenomenal.

This of course starts with Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby and I honestly feel that, in terms of dependability, Damon is one of those performers you can usually count on to deliver a quality performance. Indeed here in this film, Damon is in top form as we see him deliver a performance that is constantly torn between standing by his friend and having to give in to the ever-changing whims of Ford and his executives yet by the end is willing to risk everything to give his friend the opportunity of a lifetime. Indeed it really is just another win for one of the most dependable actors in the business. Bale, on the other side of the duo acting powerhouse on display, is also fantastic as the highly flawed, quite arrogant, yet extremely gifted Ken Miles. Indeed Bale does a great job at showing us that Miles finds himself consistently conflicted because although he wants to be around his family as much as possible, he nevertheless cannot resist the temptation that comes when looking at the opportunity of being right about the cars that Shelby fights to design let alone get the chance to race. Indeed I think it is a fair argument to make, but I think Ford would not have even been able to compete at Le Mans without Ken Miles’ contributions behind the wheel, and likewise I can’t even imagine a version of this film where Bale is NOT behind the wheel. Indeed it really is wonderful work from a man who is one of the most unique actors of his generation.

All in all Ford v Ferrari manages to showcase for all of us a truly stirring, emotional, and quite inspirational story about professional pride and the lengths people will go in order to claim it that is told extremely well. Indeed not only does the film possess a screenplay that really enables the film’s game and wonderful cast to help create what truly become rich, complicated characters out of the oft-used underdog-sport mold that this film is in possession of, but the director’s skill and precision in filmmaking also does a phenomenal job of ensuring that this particular film-going experience stays a perpetually smooth and swift ride to enjoy over and over again. Indeed there used to be a time way back when Hollywood were specialists in the making of true blue crowd pleasers; that being said since those are now seemingly and sadly few and far between, it should go without saying, but when one such as this manages to speed along and happens to succeed and fire on all cylinders like this one, please do yourself a favor and go out of your way to support it. I promise you won’t regret it. On a scale of 1-5 I give Ford v. Ferrari a solid 4 out of 5.