Anyone who has seen the entirety of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will surely tell you that it is a race like no other, and that describing the unique tension and drama associated with the intensity of the legendary annual racing event is nearly impossible – it is simply one of those things you have to witness in order to grasp why it is so revered and surrounded by such infamy.
With Ford v Ferrari, director James Mangold steers the racing film with a calm hand that makes it a highly satistisfying biopic detailing the events that led up to and occured during the 1966 Le Mans race.
Stuck in the middle of a corporate pissing contest between Ford and Ferrari, the competitive friendship of American racing driver and racing car designer Carroll Shelby and English racing driver Ken Miles is the driving force of the film. Thanks to the great chemistry between powerhouses Matt Damon and Christian Bale, the verbal and, at times, physical sparring between two incredibly driven individuals who are deeply passionate about their sport is immensely watchable.
Damon comfortably takes on the portrayal of Carroll Shelby, a role that feels tailormade for the stoicism with an undercurrent of intensity and determination that he so often brings to the big screen. As a contrast, Bale gets to thoroughly flex his thespian talent once more as he imbues Ken Miles with a degree of life that makes him jump off the screen as much as he jumps at the people who make the mistake of triggering his bad temper.
Having proven time and time again that they both possess a potent screen presence, Ford v Ferrari is a noteworthy addition to Damon and Bale’s already impressive resumes. Simiarly, the other players around them also add texture to the drama with competent performaces across the board, and save for one or two emotional beats that feel somewhat forced, the film is a compelling drama that does justice to a milestone in racing by thoroughly fleshing out the two interesting personalities at its core.
How the racing itself is portrayed is, of course a cause for concern, as you need to please the gearheads without alienating the uninitiated. Thankfully, the sequences in Ford v Ferrari are sprinkled in at intervals that allows the drama to take the lead without sacrifing the action.
Much like Rush had very satisfying racing sequences, the racing sequences in Ford v Ferrari are equally enticing from a cinematic perspective, finding a middle ground between a degree of realism satisfactory for fans of motor sports and general entertainment value to thrill the casual viewer.
While the cinematography of the film as a whole is visually pleasing, the creative choices in terms of cinematography during the racing sequences shifts the visual style sufficiently to create a sense of suspense and tension that leaves you hungry for more action. However, the excellent sound design is what truly drives home why motor sports are so thrilling to watch, and a visit to a theater with a particularly good sound system is therefore an essential consideration for those watching this film.
Unsurprisingly, James Mangold has pieced together yet another highly competent film, which ticks all the boxes for what makes for a classic Hollywood tale of success through adversity. From the skillful direction through the high production value to the thrilling sound design and the dynamic performances, Ford v Ferrari is in many ways classic Oscar bait, but it is nonetheless still an excellent piece of narrative-driven action with plenty of heart.
Verdict: 9 out of 10.