It's all a true story, working off the screenplay by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller, in 1966 the Ford motor company threw their hats into the ring of formula racing, looking to challenge Ferrari at the 24-hour Le Mans race. The problem isn't if Ford can make a car to sell, but it's a mixture of pride and frustration, with Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) scorned by Ferrari, when they choose to merge with Fiat over the Detroit based car maker. So, what idea does Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) come up with? Let's beat Ferrari at their own game of fast cars. We just need to find the right people who can make and drive us to the finish line. That's where hot head driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and motor legend Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) come into the picture. It's a risk for Ford, but he's not the one driving the car, and the real battle is for Miles and Shelby to prove it to the world that they can win.
If there are any knocks on Ford v Ferrari, and there are not a whole lot, is just how much of a sure thing this movie is. Having stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon work together is a can't lose scenario, which leads to the cliched sports movie beats and fails to subvert the genre as much as I would like. Yet, James Mangold feels more and more like a can't lose director, turning out workman-like material, and the proof is up on the screen. Not to mention, it's once again scary to see how good Christian Bale is at his job. It was only a year ago where Bale was carrying around 45 plus pounds for playing Dick Cheney in Vice and now he looks as skinny as a skeleton to play the role of Miles. Mix Bale's strong performance, along with witty banter that Bale and Damon bounce off one another, and it's what makes Ford v Ferrari this good. They are a regular Butch Cassidy & Sundance, only instead of riding horses, their riding rubber on the road.
When I mention that Mangold is able to merge his genre's, that's because Ford v Ferrari tends to not feel like a competitive sports movie, but a love letter to the people involved. Miles is portrayed as a misunderstood family man, and the tender moments involving Bale and Caitriona Balfe- playing Miles' wife Mollie, are more romance, than sports, tugging on our heart strings to care about these characters. We see them as two people that love one another, through all the hard times, and even the fear that with any wrong turn, Miles could lose his life. That's why the friendship of Miles and Shelby and Mollie becomes a bit of a love triangle. The love of family, the love for racing, and the drive to become the best becomes the major focus. As much as the script tries to establish Josh Lucas' character, as the evil corporate head holding the two men back, or Ferrari as the team they have to beat, this stories real battle is inside these two men, with plenty to prove.
The final result is a big crowd pleaser, not afraid to test our emotions, but filled from beginning to end with exciting theatrics. The trio of Mangold, Bale, and Damon is a winning filmmaking combo, telling a story of ingenuity, and striving to be the best. It's easy to say that Ford v Ferrari is one of the best movies of 2019. Movies this good should give you a reason to race to the theater this weekend. Let's hope it results in more being made just like it.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: FORD V FERRARI
STARRING: CHRISTIAN BALE; MATT DAMON; CAITRIONA BALFE; JON BERNTHAL
DIRECTED BY: JAMES MANGOLD
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
I don't think we see enough sports movies anymore. With cinema stuck in the major blockbuster, superhero, big action mode, it leads to the stories on screen being the same thing over and over again. It's essentially the message that Martin Scorsese is trying to convey in his recent comments, that cinema can and should be a wider range of art, for directors to try new things, not just grown-ups wearing tights and capes. One director that is as reliable as it comes for good cinema is James Mangold and I am hoping he has revived the sports movie with Ford v Ferrari. It is the first sports movie for the Logan director, but as he has plenty of times before, Mangold finds a way to mix genre styles, while still making a movie that you can recommend to anybody. Ford v Ferrari is a racing narrative first, but what bubbles to the surface is a story about fighting against one's self, and finding the people that are willing to go along for the ride. Ford v Ferrari is fast, awesome, and will inspire you to chase a dream.