Synopsis: In the mid-1960’s, a racecar designer and driver set-out to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ford vehicle, competing against the renowned Ferrari motor company.
Ford v Ferrari has a lot of kickass race scenes, as one would expect from the title. I figured that Ford must have custom built a race car that had nothing to do with their regular operations because “Ford Car” conjures up a pretty commonplace, affordable vehicle; just another car idling beside you in traffic. On the other hand: Ferrari…Wow! It turns heads even in money-soaked, flashy cities like LA and Miami.
It turns out that yes, Ford knew that it hadn’t excited people since the Model T rolled off the assembly line. In the early 1960’s they were looking for a way to freshen their image and make it sporty. They went so a far as to try and buy Ferrari in 1963. But OG, Enzo Ferrari was unimpressed by Ford and went with Fiat. In Ford v Ferrari Henry Ford II (Pulitzer winning playwright Tracy Letts plays him as a an arrogant SOB), is infuriated and determines to have Ford build a car that can win at Le Mans, a 24 hour event in France. But who can make it happen?
Matt Damon, of course, with a little help from Christian Bale. Or Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, former racecar driver and performance car builder par excellence from Texas and Christian Bale as the skillful, but-down-on his-luck English driver Ken Miles. These real-life figures will have almost as much difficulty with Ford as they do with Ferrari. More on that later…
Reportedly 20th Century Fox had been working on a treatment of the project for awhile with Tom Cruise (blech!) and Brad Pitt (yum!) considered for the leads. Eventually, the script was re-written and Damon and Bale signed on. I think I know why Damon wanted in… Northeasterners cannot resist the chance to a do a Southern accent from time to time–even if they aren’t an actor. It gives them a chance to holler Southern aphorisms like, “I’ll tan yer hide redder’n Georgia Dirt!” and to deliver plainspoken utterances like “Sometimes a man is just that. A Man.” Matty D. is a dyed in the wool Yankee from Massachusetts who went to Harvard, so you know he especially yearns to stretch his acting muscles playing a salt of the earth tough Texan. Besides the accent, he gets to wear cowboy hats too.
Christian Bale? God only knows what makes the fiery tempered actor tick. But it may have something to do with a compulsion to get ultra skinny for characters as in The Mechanist and The Fighter. Here he is again looking malnourished, with the thinnest of skin draping his jutting cheekbones. I think that Bale could’ve received more critical attention if the movie had been titled The Driver. Then again, seats will be filled with Ferrari in the title, letting the audience know that there will be lots of cars zooming around and crashing all over the screen and not just some angsty, underweight guy staring into the distance dreaming of “the perfect lap.” Well, he actually does do that too.
The first half of the move is a set-up for the high stakes racing. We see former racecar driver Shelby/Damon, shake pills into his mouth to quiet his galloping heart while he keeps interfering Ford execs at bay. Meanwhile, Miles/Bale is either vrooming around the test track talking to himself or seen covered in car grease shaking a wrench at someone for not understanding race cars.
Things get tense between the two men due to all of the pressure that Ford is putting them under. But they work out all of their issues in a wrestling match in Miles/Bale’s front yard. Jeans are dirtied, grocery items are brandished. Naturally they end up lying side-by-side, laughing. Now they share a brotherly bond.
It’s a very testosterone-fueled movie, but Miles/Bale does have an adoring, spirited wife, Mollie, played by Caitriona Balfe. At one point, she acts just like her character, Claire, on Outlander who is always scolding her beloved Jamie in a hot way. In Ford v Ferrari she speeds around county roads with her husband in the passenger seat, castigating him for being untruthful about his job or something. Oh, and they have a son who looks about ten years old and never goes to school because he is too busy trailing his dad around the garage or racetrack.
The slow-ish action heats up in the last half of the movie when they start racing. This is good because I think glory days films about machines and companies that have polluted and heated up the Earth are just about done. Fortunately for the film, the thrill of seeing well-shot car races can distract us from thoughts of climate change. Also distracting are the shots of Shelby/Damon on the sidelines of the races, teasing the Ferrari team with little ploys. Of course, they respond in a stereotypically hot-blooded manner. I guess we are meant to find it amusing, but, believe me, once you see what arrogant, publicity-hungry people Ford & his execs are, you may root for Ferrari.
P.S. Ford sold an electric car model from 2011 – 2018. The company currently offers a selection of hybrid vehicles, including an All-Electric Mustang Mach-E, with a list price of $43,895. The original Ford Mustang debuted in 1964, costing $2,368. The 1965 Mustang 6’s MPG was 20.8.
P.P.S. Ferrari plans on a fully electric Ferrari by 2025. Its SF90 Stradale is a hybrid vehicle with a 1,000 horsepower engine and top speeds of 340 km per hour. Its priced from $625,000 —- Madonna Mia!
Movie Loon Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Great race scenes, standard drama.
Humor Highlight: When Bale & Damon go mano a mano