American car designer Carroll Shelby and the British-born driver Ken Miles work together to battle corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford Motor Company and take on the dominating race cars of Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966.
ActorsStarring: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Tracy Letts, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon, J. J. Feild, Jack McMullen, Corrado Invernizzi, Joseph Williamson, Ian Harding, Christopher Darga, Shawn Law, Emil Beheshti, Darrin Prescott, Benjamin Rigby, Ben Collins, Rudolf Martin, Wallace Langham, Jonathan LaPaglia, Wyatt Nash, Stefania Spampinato, Dallas Chandler, Scott Rapp
If you are getting a bit bored waiting for yet another installment of the Fast & Furious to come along (part 9 is to be released May 2020), Ford v Ferrari (aka Le Mans ’66) will keep you entertained until then. One problem: it will make Vin Diesel and his never-ending ‘family’ spiel look decidedly bland in comparison…
The movie takes us back to the early 1960s when Ford Motor Company had a reliable image, but sales and profits were slumping a bit – the ‘new generation’ wasn’t looking for reliable cars, they wanted something more fun, more sexy, more exciting… Knowing Ferrari was in dire straights financially, a Ford delegation travels to Italy to buy the company. Enzo however plays them off against Fiat and ends up selling his company to his Italian counterpart for a much higher price whilst retaining full control.
Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) suggests to Henry Ford II that they build a performance car that can take on the dominance of Ferrari at Le Mans, to prove to customers that they make better and more affordable cars than those Europeans. When Henry Ford the Second hears the disrespect Enzo showed him (“Ford makes ugly little cars in ugly little factories”, “tell Henry Ford he is not his father, he is Henry Ford The Second“) he is all-in and ready to go to war against those ‘wops’.
So Ford hires the best car designer they can find: Caroll Shellby (Matt Damon), who in turns hires the best driver he knows: Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Together they go about designing the fastest car they can dream up. A large part of the movie is about designing and test driving the cars combined with boys-will-be-boys banter, bragging, bluster and bravado, and is simply great fun to watch. The story, of course, culminates in the Le Mans ’66 race.
The acting is great – Matt Damon is the smooth talking Texan playing the bridge between the people that actually know what they are doing on the one hand, and the corporate games played by Ford Executives trying to take control and credit whenever they can on the other. Christian Bale is the abbrasive and rude Englishman who rubs everyone the wrong way whilst spouting lines not many could credibly utter. The two have good chemistry throughout the movie and really it is their movie – all other characters are pretty two dimensional, except Miles’ son Peter, a solid part by Noah Jupe. Enzo Ferrari is a mere figurine and Henry Ford II also is hardly more than a stereotypical assholish CEO out for money and ‘revenge’ spouting ethnic slurs and assorted statements that sound great in the absence of context. A notable quote of his being: “This isn’t the first time Ford Motor’s gone to war with Europe. We know how to do more than push paper. Go ahead, Carroll. Go to war.” This sounds like suitably boisterous fighting talk in a boys-will-be-boys movie, but they didn’t mention that Ford indeed went to war with Europe in WWII – including being on Hitler’s side, producing war materiel and employing hundreds of POWs in its German factory in violation of the Geneva Convention, and the fact that Ford, of course, had written “The International Jew, The World’s Foremost Problem”, which was the reason for Hitler having a photo of Henry Ford on his desk, calling him “his inspiration” and speaking favourably of him in Mein Kampf. But I digress – that is not the kind of history Ford v Ferrari deems relevant – it’s a Hollywood simplification and glorification of events, and taking it in that spirit it is a wonderfully entertaining movie.
Some call it the best car racing movie for non-car buffs, and it comes close but in my opinion 2013’s Rush by Ron Howard about the real-life F1 battles between James Hunt and Niki Lauda is still a step up from this – better writing, complex characters, and even more adrenaline pumping cinematography. But Ford v Ferrari is a greatly entertaining easy to watch movie for anyone to enjoy at face value.