When viewers see the phrase “based on a true-story” associated with a film, it’s usually followed by mildly entertaining reenactments of a point in history, with actor-to-historical-figure transformations brought to the big screen.
This is not the case for the biographical sports drama film “Ford v Ferrari” because it rises above the familiar structure to become an astonishingly thrilling, wildly hilarious and genuinely compelling movie about competitive racing. Director James Mangold crafts an Oscar-worthy film set in 1966, with fast-paced racing sequences and heartfelt moments of friendship.
Based on a remarkable true story, the dynamic chemistry between visionary American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and fearless British race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) drives the plotline of “Ford v Ferrari.” They battle together against relentless corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to do the unthinkable: build a revolutionary race car for the Ford Motor Company to compete against the dominant race cars of Ferrari in France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
The phenomenal performances of Damon and Bale capture the camera’s attention because they both play loveable characters that are driven by the art of racing. Damon’s cocky and amusing attitude is matched by an interesting Texan accent which reinforces the viewer’s perception of Shelby as a pursuer of the American dream, tackling personal and professional struggles with a sense of grit. Miles, on the other hand, is denoted as arrogant at first, but Bale imbues his performance of the character with plenty of charm and wit to win the audience’s affection over the course of the film.
The spirit and determination behind Shelby and Miles are eloquently displayed; the duo is shown to have an affectionate, brotherly relationship that propels their decisions. Damon and Bale shine in showcasing a story of friendship and the lengths one will go to for someone they believe in. Beyond the racing and car feuds, the relationship between Miles and his young son Peter (Noah Jupe) is central to the heart of the film, adding an additional emotional angle to a story that otherwise centers on the adult leads. Another notable supporting character is Miles’ wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), who pushes him to excel in his profession.
At 152 minutes in length, “Ford v Ferrari” should feel like a daunting tale to bring to the screen, but it doesn’t. Instead, the film is a great piece of old-school Hollywood entertainment that breezes by as Mangold and editors Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland keep the pace of the film consistently engaging. From the beginning, “Ford v Ferrari” does an excellent job of foreshadowing what’s to come later on in the film, ensuring that the audience is engrossed throughout.
In addition to its excellent pacing margin, the film’s impeccable cinematography and sound design are incredibly appealing, allowing the film to reach a mainstream audience. The sense of precise focus in Mangold’s direction is flawlessly matched by the roaring sound of the speedway, engines and tires scurrying against one another on the race tracks. The cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous, with the camera putting the viewer right in the middle of the racing sequences in a magnetic way. The musical composition of “Ford v Ferrari” can be described as dynamic and propulsive, which brings yet another layer of experimental craftsmanship to the table.
Indeed, it’s the meticulous craft of Mangold’s team that makes “Ford v Ferrari” one of the best racing movies in history. The film’s relatively cruel and tear-jerking ending will stay with the viewer long after the credits have rolled in. It’s a rather gratifying feeling to be carried across the finish line of Le Mans by a superb line of actors and equally splendid filmmakers. With “Ford v Ferrari,” audiences can get ready for the ride of their lives that “moves through space and time” at 7,000 revolutions per minute.