Possibly the most surprising aspect of James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is how the emphasis is placed on character rather than car. Most racing films have to deal with a narrow rivalry between two companies or drivers, but this film is about a bond between two mechanical geniuses among all else.
Ford v Ferrari, which held its world premiere at Telluride to rave reviews, chronicles the effort on the part of the Ford Motor Company to best Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Based upon true events, it follows Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they work to convince the uptight Ford to produce a state-of-the-art racing vehicle to challenge the, at the time, undefeated Ferrari. The idea of even attempting to build a race car to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans came from Vice President of Ford Lee Iococca (Jon Bernthal), as a marketing ploy to appeal to younger drivers during their sales slump.
The executives at Ford quickly realize hiring Shelby and Miles might have been a mistake, as the pair like to work outside the box. This leads to much friction between driver Miles and Senior Vice President Leo Beebe, who thinks the Brit is too hot headed and won’t represent the Ford Motor Company well enough during Le Mans.
By the time the film finally gets to the Le Mans race sequence, things really kick into high gear. Mangold excels at each of the racing sequences we do see in the film, bringing us inside the car with Miles as he endures each harrowing lap. Some viewers might find Ford v Ferrari relatively conventional in terms of story, but it’s the composition and attention to detail that elevate it. It also helps that both Damon and Bale turn in incredible performances, and build a very natural on-screen rapport.
The pair ends up being the emotional core of the film, above all else. There are several instances when the executives at Ford believe Miles is not suited to drive for them at Le Mans, and they go out of their way to make sure ti doesn’t happen. Though, thanks to Shelby’s unflinching trust in Miles, that never happens. For those who know the true events of this story, you’ll know it ends on a tragic note, which the film handles in an endearing way.
The film ends with a quote that Shelby lived by and believed was the best way to describe the experience he and other drivers feel during a race: “There’s a point at 7,000 RPMs where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless. It disappears. All that’s left, a body moving through space, and time. At 7,000 RPM, that’s where you meet it. That’s where it waits for you.”
Even if you’re not a car enthusiast or don’t know the life and events of Ken Miles or Carroll Shelby, Ford v Ferrari is a film worth experiencing on the big screen.
The film is currently playing in theaters nationwide.