Film review ‘FORD VS FERRARI’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

In the early 1960s the Ford motor company was losing market share as, in a rapidly changing cultural landscape, its mass-produced vehicles looked decidedly uncool to the youth of the time. Convincing his boss, Henry Ford the Second, the grandson of the famous Henry Ford, that they needed to sex-up the brand, marketing head Lee Iacocca decided that Ford needed to become a force in motor racing and grab some of the excitement and allure of brash Europeans like Ferrari. To become a winning racing team, they needed the best in the business and in the US in the 1960’s that was former racing driver turned car designer and Shelby America team boss Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and maverick, hothead, expat British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Together this unlikely and volatile team of motor racing pros and profit hungry suits set their sights on the ultimate proving ground, the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour race.

Director James Mangold (who gave us the underrated thriller Identity) conjures an engaging if not always engrossing story of sporting endeavour, male rivalry, corporate hubris, personal redemption and good ol’ American know how. He also fashions a picture-perfect vision of the 1960’s with Madmen-like corporate board rooms and a kind of feral energy seemingly lost from today’s clinical, digitally obsessed world. Even those who, like me, are normally bored senseless by car racing, will find Shelby and Miles’ story involving. Non-car fans will even find the racing scenes exciting as Mangold carefully orchestrates a sense of exhilaration and terror as drivers propel those potential death traps at over 200 miles per hour.

The film is anchored by an effortlessly convincing performance from Matt Damon, who makes Shelby a stoic, methodical figure with flickers of passion, a quiet but rugged hero in the western move tradition (hat and all) who is unphased by Henry Ford’s alpha male posturing. Bale is magnetic as always even though he plays Miles as if Liam Gallagher had just sat behind the wheel of a racing car. As Henry Ford 2 or ‘the deuce’ as he called here, Tracey Letts once again shows he’s the master of playing overbearing American authority figures.

The film’s title is a little misleading as it suggests an equal focus on Ford and Ferrari but the emphasis is much more on Ford and Shelby and Miles’ personal and professional lives. The real battle is between Shelby and Ford’s appointed racing head Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). Their conflict gives the film a dramatic centrepiece even though it means the film occasionally, over-indulges the salt of the earth, working class hero versus corporate sleazeball cliché.

Ford vs Ferrari doesn’t entirely justify its generous 152 minutes length and it stalls occasionally but for the most part this is an enthralling ride.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Biopic/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): James Mangold.

Release date: 14th Nov2019.

Running time: 152 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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