In the 1960s, the deteriorating Ford Motor was desperate to boost their car sales to the first-generation boomers. In their effort, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) had an epiphany to propose participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which leads to Henry Ford II’s (Tracy Letts) direct order to manufacture a built-for-speed car to defeat the mogul, Ferrari. There’s where the poster guys, Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) make an entrance to this formulaic ambitious story and rev up the engine to make this one of the finest racing movies ever made.
Just like Le Mans, Ford v Ferrari (also titled Le Mans ’66) is never an ordinary race. Le Mans requires participating teams to race for a full 24 hours using the same car in the same racetrack. The movie, clocking in at two and a half hours, is apparently a game of speed, endurance, and design; just like the depicted event. Scriptwriters—Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller—hold that credo dearly in strategically building the story. The narrative reflects how unsurprising the race track is but, at the same time, we will never know what will happen on the street. While crafted on a very familiar trajectory, the story knows how to get thrilling and enticing even after some heat and occasional pitstops.
James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma remake, Logan) interprets the story into an immersive yet heartbreaking experience. Mangold takes time to introduce us to Damon’s Shelby, a former Le Mans champion who ends up establishing a car manufacturing company. There’s unchanneled energy flows through Shelby that we, the audiences, can feel upon learning the harsh truth about his career. We can feel the very same energy rushes through Bale’s Miles; it’s cruder and boiling over. Together, the feat works their nerves to assemble the Ford GT40 and never slow down until reaching the podium of 2019 finest pictures. That’s true and that, definitely, is not an overstatement.
Inside or outside the track, Mangold brings us closer to the characters. It’s where the immersive sensation arises. During the race, the director avoids longshots; instead, he brings us to the steering wheel where we can see Miles’ distinct facial features from up close, observing him as he told the car to “giddy up” or as he sings “I’m happy, H-A-P-P-Y!” The whole experience is dizzying yet satisfying, especially when Miles takes the sharp turn or when he makes the utopian perfect lap. There are dangers lurking from beneath; but, there are feelings of pride when missions are accomplished. It’s all well-made, well-shot, and, most importantly, so fast that you might miss the “7000+ Go Like Hell” cue.
When the race is always gripping, the tension arises behind the scene is as intriguing. The title ‘Ford v Ferrari‘ title might not do the narrative a justice because the titular feud is merely ideological. The real feud is even closer than that. Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) only acts irritatingly once—to Bernthal’s Iacocca. Ferrari’s insult was the one that triggers the manchild, Ford, to boil up. And yet, the war isn’t between them; it’s always a showdown between Shelby and Miles’ passion against Ford Motor’s marketing ambition, as boasted by Josh Lucas’ Leo Beebe. The feud has always been about the vision for the game. Shelby and, especially, Miles view the race as a battle of pride which they keep winning with their passion. Beebe and other Ford execs view it as a mere marketing campaign or, as Miles said, as a “photograph.”
The track might not be a straight and smooth one, but Ford v Ferrari knows every mile and feels every turn. At one point in the movie, it delivers the perfect lap that Ken Miles tells his son, Petey (Noah Jupe), in a warm conversation. The heroes, while working with machines and fuels, are human; they act like real human beings and we can feel it, too. Miles and Shelby might not be spraying champagne at the podium and get high on celebrations (Dan Gurney, Miles’ teammate in Ford Motor would accidentally initiate the tradition in ’67, a year after the event in this movie), but their old-fashioned story definitely is worth-celebrating.