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Ford v Ferrari


American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and the British-born driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) work together to battle corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford Motor Company and take on the dominating race cars of Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966.

“Ford v Ferrari” is what it promises to be, a blast from the past. It tells a great story about auto racing in the 1960s, when car designer Carroll Shelby teamed up with Ford to make race cars that rivaled Ferrari’s. And then, as it goes along, it takes on a grander scale.

It’s about two guys — Shelby and driver Ken Miles — who were machine whisperers, who had the skill, intuition and physical courage required to advance the sport and create something new. In a classic matchup, the movie pits them against their natural enemies — the natural enemies of all creativity: the bean counters and the yes-men, who somehow always have a disproportionate share of the power.

In a larger sense, “Ford v Ferrari” pays tribute to big thinking and chance taking, to men who don’t wear suits, but coveralls, who are in-the-moment enough to release into ecstasy while hurtling around a track, while traveling at 200 miles per hour in a tin can, and who aren’t troubled by the prospect of turning into a flaming torch while pursuing the joy of making the impossible possible.

The movie demonstrates the need for a certain kind of crazy in this world, that it can be a force behind great accomplishment. “Ford v Ferrari,” in its own, new way, is a paean to masculinity, no small feat in our cultural moment.

In 1963, the Ford Motor Co. made a bid to buy Ferrari, but when Enzo Ferrari saw a clause in the contract that indicated he would be losing control of his product, he pulled out of the negotiations with some choice of words for Ford President Henry Ford II. This scene is re-created in the film and is followed by a decision by Ford (Tracy Letts) to “go to war.” His plan is to devise, at Ford, a race car fast enough and strong enough to beat Ferrari at Le Mans, the famed 24-hour endurance auto race in France.

To this end, Ford hires Shelby, a car maker and former race car driver, played by Matt Damon with flashiness and aplomb. He’s a good old boy from Texas who knows how to play the celebrity, but he’s also a man of integrity who knows what he’s taking on by involving himself with a monolithic corporation. Damon navigates smoothly between the public side of the character — blithe, unflappable, always the winner — and the private man with a heart condition and stresses pulling at him from several directions.

The one man Shelby knows he needs on his team is Miles, who is really the movie’s lead role. As introverted as Shelby is extroverted, and as British as Shelby is American, Miles is an unassuming eccentric who talks to his car when racing, coaxing and praising it through every increase in RPM. As Miles, Christian Bale shows us someone in complete communication with his car when racing, and happy in the full use of his powers.

The racing photography, it must be said, is extraordinary. We go with Miles on each ride. We have the panorama of the track before us, and we see the maneuvering and the potential threats that come out of nowhere.

It’s thrilling, and just in case we get too used to it, there’s a great scene in which Shelby takes Ford for a ride and floors it, so that the boss can learn that it takes a special man to drive a race car. As Ford, Letts sobs, weeps and blubbers — and comes out of that car with an education.

"“Ford v Ferrari” could have just been a sports story, dramatizing an interesting chapter in racing, and it would have been fine. But in showing Ford and his minions’ constant interference in the dedicated work of Miles and Shelby, this James Mangold film becomes a tale of souls battling the soulless. In a sense, it’s a familiar story, but our emotions know the timelessness of it, and the film provokes a kind of cathartic grief as we see the hostility of the cowardly suits when confronted by the heroic.

We understand that the distorted and compromised executive that is put in charge of Miles and Shelby (well played by Josh Lucas) can bear any level of debasement by his boss, and every bit of pain that comes from selling out. What he can’t bear is to see the freedom and the joy of authentic and creative people at their work.

So this is an emotional film that will appeal even to those with no interest in racing, because, ultimately, “Ford v Ferrari” is about art versus commerce, devotion versus cynicism, and inspiration versus deadness. It’s one of the year’s great films, and of all the great films so far, the most accessible." - San Francisco Chronicle

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Directed by: 
James Mangold
Running Time: 
Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal

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