For more than half my life I have been a fan of racing. From NASCAR to IndyCar and occasionally F1 I’ve long been a fan of motorsports so racing movies have a special place in my heart. But not since “Rush” in 2013 has a racing film filled me with so much excitement and anticipation like “Ford v Ferrari” has in 2019. The story of Ford’s rise in the world of Formula 1 is legendary in motorsports especially since this development involved one of the most iconic automotive visionaries of all time Carroll Shelby and motorsports legend Ken Miles. “Ford v Ferrari” explores the Ford Motor Company’s legendary rise to rival Ferrari on the national stage with Matt Damon and Christian Bale taking on the personas of Shelby and Miles respectively and James Mangold, director of “Logan” and “Walk the Line”, in the director’s chair. I was extremely curious to see what this film had to offer and how it adapted its subject matter, so let’s see how well it lived up to my lofty expectations. This is my review of “Ford v Ferrari”.
“Ford v Ferrari” had a lot going for it as it completed its development with prominent sponsorship of real-life racing events, an accomplished and popular director, two well known names in the lead roles and even some Oscar buzz in the last few months. Thankfully it didn’t squander all of these advantages. Not only is “Ford v Ferrari” a great racing film, it may very well be one of the best racing movies of all time. There are a lot of layers to the epic war between manufacturers that had to be handled properly in order to do this narrative justice, and the filmmakers delivered. The writers and Mangold as director did a fine job establishing focus and pacing while telling a pretty complex and multi-layered story that takes place over several seasons, involves both sports and human drama and delves into the complexities of both race car development and the story lines of the 1966 24 Horus of Le Mans. This film had to juggle not only the personal stories of its two main characters, but the backstory of Ford’s motivations for entering Formula 1 and the testing and research that went into producing the Ford GT40. While this film could be docked a few points for failing to make Enzo Farrari anything more than a respectful opponent to the cause, for the most part “Ford v Ferrari” does a fine job melding several different narratives into one cohesive, smooth and engaging sports drama.
The film does so by finding a surprisingly good balance between fact and fiction. Most of the changes made to the real life story in the film might not present exactly how things played out but they do add to the dramatic elements of the story to make things more interesting and compelling without compromising the spirit of the real history behind the narrative. Some major changes include Shelby taking Henry Ford II for a ride in the GT40 when Ken Miles did this in real life, Enzo Ferrari being present at the 1966 Le Mans when he wasn’t actually there, many of the real life engineers behind the GT40 being omitted to focus on Miles and Shelby, a completely fictional race at Willow Springs Raceway, and the depiction of Ford racing division head Leo Beebee (played by Josh Lucas) is exaggerated to make him a pseudo-villain figure. Also the famed finish of the 1966 Le Mans is changed slightly in very minor ways including how Shelby reacted to a request from Ford. Ken Miles personality and the push against him driving by Ford executives was also exaggerated in the film. But all of these elements serve to enhance the story rather than compromise it. “Ford v Ferrari” makes up for this through amazingly detailed replicas of the real-life cars of the era were used, a relatively accurate depiction of the drama of Ford and Ferrari’s original potential merger, the motivation behind Shelby’s exit from racing, and the showcase of the danger associated with the early GT40 models including Miles’ near death experience. With all this taken into consideration “Ford v Ferrari” is a fine example of how creative liberty and historic accuracy can be blended property to create a respectable presentation of history with some added flair to promote viewer interest.
Probably the coolest thing about this movie though is the racing! A lot of the racing, save for a few elements like the audiences, was reportedly done with real cars rather than using CGI and the film is SO much better off for it. The racing in this movie, and there is quite a bit, is absolutely insane and immersive putting you right into the thick of the action with numerous different camera angles working perfectly to present the rush and intensity of the on-track action. As a race fan this was by far the coolest part of the film as we got to see some of the most entertaining and polished racing scenes ever put to film. Combine this with the effective, relatable and well directed and acted drama of the real-life stories of two racing greats and you get a multilayered movie with more than enough to offer for both fans of the sport and fans of historic dramas in general. Having the likes of Christian Bale and Matt Damon on board also helps tremendously as the two make a great on-screen team and fully embrace their roles. Their partnership and character flaws are very believable and they add a great deal of levity and depth to the film by selling their characters’ attitudes, passion for racing and motivations flawlessly as well as the different tones of the script. There’s been rumors that these performances might land each actor nods at the Golden Globes and Oscars and if so, they would be very deserving.
To summarize, I loved this movie. “Ford v Ferrari” is big screen racing at its best with awesome visuals, great acting, a worthy and engaging story that’s only mildly altered to make it more entertaining and great pacing that keeps you invested even when the action moves away from the track. This might be one of the most perfectly balanced, entertaining and all-around well-made motorsports movies of all time. “Ford v Ferrari” proves that there can be a happy medium between respectful creative liberties and historical accuracy as well as real life drama and on field (or track) excitement. The best sports films understand that it takes this kind of balance to make for a great product and in the capable hand of James Mangold and with two very talents stars in Bale and Damon at the front leading the way “Ford v Ferrari” more than fits that bill. This will no doubt go down as one of my favorite movies of 2019 not just because it’s a great racing movie, but because it’s just a great all-around film in general. Definitely one of the years best so far and more than worthy of your time.