Ford v Ferrari is a classic American sports underdog story. A movie that bleeds red, white, and blue and will have you wanting to stand up in your chair and cheer, “AMERICA!” Director James Mangold has made a wildly entertaining, rousing racing movie that features stellar direction, excellent performances, and edge-of-your-seat races you won’t forget. It is one of the best movies of 2019.
Following another loss to Ferrari at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), living in the shadow of his father, decides to go all in in order to defeat Ferrari. He enlists the help of Carol Shelby (Matt Damon), the last American to win the 24 Hour of Le Mans. Shelby recognizes that it isn’t just the car that will win the race, but it’s also the driver and asks help from Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a brilliant racer and mind for the sport, though a bit temperamental. Shelby and Miles, along with a crack team of mechanics, go against convention in order to get the fastest, best car possible, even if the suits at Ford think otherwise.
James Mangold is one of the most diverse directors working today and a director we do not appreciate enough. From Girl, Interrupted and Identity to 3:10 to Yuma and Logan and others in between, Mangold has proven over his twenty-year directorial career that he is a sound, solid director who can flex his muscles in all genres. Ford v Ferrari is Mangold’s finest work to date. In all of Mangold’s films, from the action-focused to the quieter films, he’s always focused on the characters and the same goes for Ford v Ferrari. This is a movie that looks at two men who will fight and go against the highest powers in order to create the fastest car and have the right man behind the wheel, no matter what doubts and obstacles stand in their way. Mangold shows us how Shelby and Miles, two men who were incredibly good at what they did and knew they were incredibly good at what they did, had the same goal in mind and new they could get there and that it was only the higher-ups who would stop them. You are roped into Shelby and Miles’ journey and you are constantly rooting for them to get their car done and for Miles to be behind the wheel.
Along with the story of Shelby and Miles are some breathtaking race sequences. Mangold doesn’t use CGI for these races. He used real cars and put the camera right in the action with them and the effect is riveting. You really feel like you’re the one doing the racing. You feel the danger of going how fast the cars goes and you feel every turn, brake, and skid. I sat relatively close to the screen when I saw the film and the seats were vibrating as the cars flew across the screen and this wasn’t even a 4DX screening. Mangold puts us right in the front seat of these races and it is quite a rush.
What’s most interesting thing about Ford v Ferrari is how the two characters define Matt Damon and Christian Bale as actors. Damon and Bale are equally great in this movie, with Damon giving his best performance since The Martian and Bale giving yet another committed, brilliant performance, as he does with almost every role. When we think of Matt Damon, we think more of a “movie star”, someone in that class of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, etc. Damon isn’t an actor who loses a bunch of weight for a role or does the whole method-acting thing. His movie star persona is what elevates his performances in every movie. This is a lot like Carol Shelby. Shelby is the brains of this operation. He’s the one putting it all together and he’s the one who must talk to Ford about all his ideas and Ford must believe everything Shelby is saying and believe in everything he believes in. Shelby isn’t getting behind the wheel and rarely is he getting under the hood to fix it. He’s making calls, doing press conferences, and making sure Ford and his people aren’t getting in he and Miles’ way. He’s the face of this operations. When we’re thinking about Christian Bale and his acting, we think of his transformations. The up-and-down weight loss, the different voices and accents, Bale is never the same in any movie and isn’t afraid to push himself to the absolute limit. He’s an actor who gets down and dirty for his roles and becomes his characters. Miles is the dirty, gritty wheelman. He gets under the hood and changes what he needs to. He’s the one who will push the car to its absolute limit, so much so it puts his life in danger. Ford v Ferrari offers up two different kinds of performances, the movie star performance and the method actor performance, and shows how they are both equally important and work very well together when you have the right actors doing them.
Tracy Letts also gives an awards-caliber performance as Henry Ford II. Living with the chip on his shoulder for being the son of the man who invented the automobile, Letts portrays Ford as a desperate man living in his father’s shadow who knows winning the race at Le Mans will put Ford back on the map as the top automotive company. Letts’ “Go to war” speech warrants a round of applause and will send goosebumps all over your body.
As soon as Ford v Ferrari is over you’ll want to watch it again. Few movies in 2019 have been this exciting, this fun, and this well made. The writing is top notch, the acting is awards worthy, and Mangold directs the hell out of it. This is as entertaining and as good as movies get.
Follow Kevflix on Twitter and Instagram, @kevflix, and on Facebook by searching Kevflix.