Movie review: 'Ford v Ferrari' will get your pulse racing

Fred Hawson

Posted at Nov 17 2019 10:54 AM

When the Ford company decided that they wanted to race Ferrari at the celebrated 24 Hours of LeMans endurance car race, they contacted Carroll Shelby, a race car designer who won LeMans in 1959. Shelby wanted the troubled but instinctive British driver Ken Miles to drive the Ford GT 40 they co-designed for the big race. However, Shelby met resistance from the Ford executives, particularly Leo Beebe, head of the Ford Racing Division, who thought that the temperamental Miles did not properly reflect the Ford image. 

Car race movies had always been a great source of heart-pounding action and heart-rending drama, from "The Love Bug" and "Cars" for the kids, to the "Fast and Furious" and "Need for Speed" for the adrenaline-junkies. However, a special subset are the biographical race movies, like "Heart Like a Wheel" (1983) about Shirley Muldowney, and "Rush" (2013) about James Hunt and Niki Lauda. That these racers and their races are true-to-life gave them additional dramatic heft.

"Ford v Ferrari" belonged to Christian Bale as Ken Miles, World War II veteran turned race car driver. He really got into the skin of this difficult character, fully capturing his flawed personality. Physically, the gauntness of Bales' face here approximated Miles' actual facial features. He was very believable the way he was throwing all those automotive engineering jargon around in his thick British accent during the development of the GT 40 cars. He was very believable as the driver who really knew his car inside and out, knowing exactly what his machine can do, and he can coax her full potential out with his driving skills. 

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Matt Damon was his old reliable self as Carroll Shelby, although he did not really disappear into the role like how Bale did. His Shelby was still very much Matt Damon, but acting-wise, he was solid. 

Terry Letts played the petulant big boss Henry Ford II in a sort of caricaturish comical depiction. Josh Lucas was despicable as Leo Beebe, Ken's nemesis in the Ford board who interfered on the track as well. Remo Girone portrayed the venerable Enzo Ferrari, so proud of his beautiful cars. Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe turn in supportive performances as Ken's wife Mollie and son Peter. 

I did not know any of the characters nor any of the race results depicted in this sports drama movie. This made the watching these real-life events unfold on the big screen all the more engrossing and thrilling. Director James Mangold, best known for directing the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line" (2005) and the Wolverine valedictory "Logan" (2017), outdid himself by putting together an effectively involving biographical sports movie. 

The cinematography, editing, sound mixing and musical score made the exhilarating race sequences, and there was quite a number of them throughout the 152-minute running time of this film, fully immersive, pulse-racing, breathtaking viewing experiences. That extraordinary finale at LeMans was a nail-biting affair from the initial faulty door to its controversial photo-finish.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."