The history of the United States in modern times is closely intertwined with the automobile industry. Cars are a part of the country’s identity; owning a vehicle is as integral to the American Dream as having your own house, and considered a symbol of freedom. So what could be more poignant than a true story of American underdogs up against their foreign rivals set in simpler times in a world filled with fast cars? ‘Ford v Ferrari’ sets out to draw in audiences with its entertainment value, but has some real substance to offer.
Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is a former racing professional who was forced out of his occupation due to a medical issue. Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is a short-tempered driver whose unbridled talent has gone to waste due to his idiosyncrasies. When Ford comes calling to create a race team to obliterate Ferrari, Shelby and Miles are dragged into the feud - but can they overcome the bureaucracy and obstacles to pull off a near-impossible win?
It’s an interesting technique, making Shelby the main character of this story. At the end of the day, Ken Miles is the hero, but writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller have smartly switched the spotlight to Shelby. Miles has an abrasive personality, and while I immediately took a liking to his attitude and temperament, it’s safe to say Shelby makes a safer protagonist. It permits Miles’ character to create conflict and maintain a level of entertainment whilst keeping the audience at a safe distance.
This does afford Christian Bale the juicer role which he, as usual, passionately dives into. Miles is integral to the success of the film’s long driving sequences, and Bale ensures the credibility, devotion and jeopardy are all present. That’s not to say that Matt Damon isn’t equally as compelling; he just has less to play with. He’s the everyman battling the Ford bureaucracy for what he knows is the only chance for the company to succeed, and vital to the audience’s journey to the team’s achievements.
Miles is integral to the success of the film’s long driving sequences, and Bale ensures the credibility, devotion and jeopardy are all present.
Visually, director James Mangold (‘Logan’, ‘Walk the Line’) offers viewers a smorgasbord of nostalgia. While I am in no way a car aficionado, it would be hard not to appreciate the wall-to-wall machines that adorn the screen. The elegance and exquisiteness of the vehicles are undeniable, and a crucial element in transporting you into the past and within a specific world; a lot of money obviously went into getting this just right. Aesthetically, the style of cinematography feels both classic and contemporary, largely drawing on warm hues to portray the 1960s.
Whilst impressive in many ways, ‘Ford v Ferrari’ still suffers from minor pacing problems. At a little over two and a half hours, the film covers a lot of ground, managing to build in elements of comedy, drama, suspense and emotion. However, tightening the repetitive conflict between Shelby’s team and the Ford suits could have been equally as effective while making the run time marginally more manageable.
A biography on American underdogs from a blue-collar industry with notable actors, an impressive production team, and an inspiring story; did someone say Oscars? Whatever its intent, ‘Ford v Ferrari’ is an impressive biopic that rarely strays from its path. A melding of entertainment and creativity, this should be considered both a commercial and critical success. Fire up your engine and race to the cinema to catch this film that everyone’s sure to be talking about.