“Ford v Ferrari” hits 7,000 RPMS as this is a full throttle, old fashioned filmmaking at it’s finest. Director James Mangold does his finest work as a filmmaker, assembling one of the years best ensemble casts in one of the best movies made about auto racing. Choreographing some of the best action scenes on film, while keeping to an intriguing character development. Matt Damon and Christian Bale remind you, why these two were born with that movie star quality. A must see theater experience for both gear heads and non gear heads who love great cinema. It’s near perfect and yes, it’s in the race for the win as one of the years best films.
2019 is shaping up to be one heck of a year. A lot of this year’s films, are in the race to win the spot for one of this year’s ten best films. Certainly one film that is in it to win it, is James Mangold’s rip-roaring and heart-pounding 1960s action, auto racing-drama “Ford v Ferrari”.
Academy Award nominee (Best original screenplay for “Logan”) director James Mangold has a great track record as a filmmaker. I’m personally a huge fan of the filmmaker whose credits include: “CopLand” (Sylvester Stallone, Robert DeNiro), “Identity” (John Cusack), “Walk The Line” (Johnny Cash biopic With Joaquin Phoenix) and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine solo film “Logan”. His newest “Ford v Ferrari” is his finest work as a filmmaker, assembling one of the years best ensemble casts in one of the best movies made about auto racing.
“Ford v Ferrari” (formerly titled “Go Like Hell”) was stuck in development for years. Director James Mangold became interested in making it as far back as 2010. It wasn’t until after he made “Logan” in 2017, that he was brought on board to direct the film. After managing to get the required budget below $100 million Mangold finally received the green light from Twentieth Century Fox.
“Ford v Ferrari” focuses on American car designer Carroll Shelby and British driver Ken Miles. The two battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons, to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966.
After pushing his heart too far as a championship driver, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) switches to ownership, in charge of making some of the finest race cars around. After a longstanding dispute, Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) and Ford Motor Company magnate Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) have decided to prove themselves on the racing circuit, with Ford desperate to overtake Ferrari and stun the world with their cars.
Hiring Carroll Shelby to oversee the mission to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, Henry is unsure about his choice of driver, finding Ken Miles (Christian Bale) the wrong fit for the company’s image. However, Ken can drive like no other, while juggling domestic duties with his wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe). Shelby and Ken are short on time trying to perfect the Ford GT40 for the big race. Facing corporate setbacks and accidents, Carroll and Ken also wrestle with their friendship, striving to prove themselves by pushing their car to its limits.
Matt Damon, the 5-foot-10 actor may not physically resemble the 6-foot-3 Carroll Shelby in the movie. But Damon does capture the spirit of the man with his all square jawed sincerity and cowboy hat straightforwardness. While Christian Bale plays the mercurial, uncompromising, hot-headed British driver Ken Miles.
Bale who had previously gained a lot of weight for his role as Dick Cheney in last year’s Oscar nominated “Vice”, had seven months to lose it all and then some to play the lean race car driver. Bale who is infamous for drastically changing his body weight for roles, managed to lose all the weight by simply not eating. Christian Bale was originally set to play Enzo Ferrari in director Michael Mann’s biopic “Enzo Ferrari” due out next year, but dropped out due to concerns he had regarding getting the proper weight in time for the movie. Michael Mann replaced Bale with Hugh Jackman in the lead role. Director Michael Mann, director of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino’s “Heat”, “Miami Vice” and “Collateral” also serves as “Ford v Ferrari” executive producer.
The roles of Shelby and Ken Miles was to star Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt who were originally considered for the roles. The performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale reminds you of what made these two movie stars in the first place. Shelby and Miles didn’t have the rivalry that James Hunt and Nikki Lauda who were the subjects of Ron Howard’s exceptional race drama “Rush”. While it’s hardly Batman v Jason Bourne, especially in a perfectly executed scene where they wrestle like a couple of Little League dads. As Ken’s wife Mollie unfolds a chair and takes a front-lawn seat to observe these two egomaniacs working out their differences as they make up in their own way.
Veteran Italian actor Remo Girone who has more than a hundred acting credits to his name in his hometown of Italy is magnificent and perfectly cast as Enzo Ferrari. Girone who starred in the Ben Affleck directed gangster film “Live By Night”, chuckles at how ordinary the Ford team cars look side by side with his sleek and beautiful Ferraris. Enzo has no problem to easily scoff at the clunky ways of the brazen Americans who actually thought he’d sell them his company. He’s a suitably dashing but arrogant antagonist.
Actress Caitriona Balfe is wonderful as Mollie Miles, who in real life was something of a gear head herself. What’s so fresh about her character is that she isn’t one of those movie wives whose usual main function is to keep asking her husband to give up his dangerous job. In a wonderful scene Mollie goes pedal to metal and races down streets in the family car as Ken pleads to her to slow down as she tells Ken she knows the risks. That she knows he’s going to take those risks and she only asks in return that he doesn’t lie to her and pretend he doesn’t love the job.
Fun Fact: Legendary driver Dan Gurney is portrayed in the movie by his youngest son, Alex Gurney.
“Ford v Ferrari” runs long at two and a half hours, but that’s small RPM’s compared to John Frankenheimer’s 1966 formula 1 race drama masterpiece “Grand Prix”, which ran four hours and thirty minutes. “Ford v Ferrari” feels like the kind of film that would have been a roadshow epic (with overture and intermission) in the sixties shot on 70MM with an all-star cast, that would have played as a perfect companion in the same theater as “Grand Prix”.
The corporate office and garage battles take up a good amount of the lengthy run time, but Mangold doesn’t deny viewers the opportunity to watch the cars roar around the tracks. Mangold delivers magnificently choreographed practice sessions and professional races where speed is everything. It’s a flawless technical achievement and the sound design allows the growling engines and squealing tires to dominate the theater speakers and compliments the gorgeous cinematography. The sound design just screams for an Oscar nomination as it’s some of the year’s best.
In a not so typical fashion, the films score is subtle, with only the score being quietly present and the music of that era is left out. Instead the rumble of the cars and the roar of the engines over power the films score. Director James Mangold and screenwriters Jez Butterworth (“Edge Of Tomorrow”, “Spectre”), John Henry Butterworth (“Edge Of Tomorrow”) and Jason Keller (“Escape Plan”), don’t forget that the real heart of the story are the real life characters. They sprinkle in just enough quieter interludes to allow us to watch these icons lives unfold on screen, allowing us to catch our breaths between racing sequences.
As near perfect as the film is, it does have one noticeable flaw as the expertly crafted “Ford v Ferrari” overlooks the feats of engineering that made the 1966 historic 24 Hours of Le Mans race possible. The screenwriters disappointingly, leaves the automotive design and the hands on visuals of building the car off of the screen, and instead opting to verbally discuss the build.
It all leads up to the last act of the film as it’s devoted to the day-long race at Le Mans. Carroll and Ken are faced with complications, including a door that won’t shut, the arrival of rain and bad brakes. In order to recreate the Le Mans circuit as it existed in the 1960s, the crew built a replica of it’s race track. Including a mixture of having to be shot in five different locations. This proved a challenge in terms of continuity, as not only the cars had to be correctly placed for each shot but the weather had to be consistent as well. This was one of the very few times that CGI was critical in fixing a variety of continuity errors, some of which were as simple as adjusting clocks to the right time.
Mangold was strict to using no CGI for the race scenes, giving the spectacle a feel of what it was really like and how dangerous it all was. The grueling race itself is a far cry from the last film to tackle the race, Steve McQueen’s “Le Mans”, which emphasized racing over human drama.
“Ford v Ferrari” is pure cinema at it’s finest. It’s made on a grand scale as you’ll swear you’re right there in the mid-1960s. This is required viewing for any fan of the sport or for those gear heads who love cars. The film will quickly become a favorite of racing and car fans. The experience of “Ford v Ferrari” matches the unequaled thrill of hitting 7,000 RPMS, at which point the world around you disappears and you become one with the machine and with one of the years best cinematic achievements.
GRADE: ★★★★1/2☆ (4 & 1/2 out of 5)