It’s weirdly ironic that Ford Vs. Ferrari has been released under another title in some territories (as Le Mans’ 66) as the film itself, whatever it may be called, is about people bucking compromise and making precisely what they want to make without any pesky interference. Directed by James Mangold – last seen making the most exciting movie ever made about an unkillable man pining to die – a man no stranger to interference from money men, Ford Vs. Ferrari tells the tale of two mavericks in the world of motor racing who are hired by the dependable American car making factory, Ford, to whip the shiny, metal asses of Ferrari at the grueling Le Mans race, a race the Italian car giants had dominated 4 years in a row.
We meet American automotive designer Carroll Shelby, a man with a Le Mans win under his belt before health problems forced him out of racing, who is recruited by the suits at Ford to boost the flagging image of the company by creating a racing car from them from the ground up. Shelby, a charismatic man with a way with people and gifted with a silver tongue taps blunt, difficult brit Ken Miles to be his driver and together the eccentric duo strive to attempt the impossible and win the annual race in a brand of car known more for dependability than raw, pounding speed. But often, originality makes for uneasy bedfellows with the corporate machine and Shelby struggles to find a middle ground with his abrasive driver and the Ford suits who wants them to tow the line while simultaneously attempting to overcome astounding odds to win Le Mans.
You can always tell a good movie by how much it holds your attention despite it being about something you have next to no interest in. I’m not what you’d call a petrol head OR a sports fantastic and I certainly don’t understand why the hell a race needs to go on for 24 fucking hours, but a good film makes whatever the subject is riveting as hell and Ford Vs. Ferrari achieves this in spades. Mangold really is going from strength to strength as a film maker and you can’t help but wonder if his compromised experiences on The Wolverine (his first crack at the character before the towering Logan) led his decision to make a film about having to compromise in the face of having to answer to money men who only care about the marketability factor of a product over the artistry. In addition to the accomplished character drama, Mangold ably stages the race scenes with old school flair without a single unnecessary CGI shot dragging us through a combustion engine and popping us out the exhaust and somehow manages to keep the day-long, climatic race exciting and gripping through the magic of great storytelling.
Superbly backed up by two insanely charismatic lead performances, Matt Damon and Christian Bale make for a cracking double act with Bale’s naturalistic, know it all ranting (usually with a cup of tea fused to his mitt) meshing well with Damon’s swarve, breezy salesman and their love/hate friendship feels real and lived in.
While it’s ironically true that, for a film about building a car, the film stubbornly refuses to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the tried and true tropes of the American sports movie, the movie skillfully weaves around the tight bends and chicanes with a tight grip on the wheel and a finely tuned engine that makes the two and a half hour run time rocket by with the speed of a frantically clicked stop watch.
Whether any trophies are around the next bend for this film I sadly can’t say, but surely this movie – that deals with the complexity of conformity with the handling of a filmmaker adept at making last minute maneuvers – deserves to be standing on some winning podium at some point.
If you’re a racing fanatic or simply a lover of good drama, I’d make a point to race to see this one.