American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles must battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.
This film could have easily ended up being a disposable, formulaic biopic if it weren’t for the directing talents of James Mangold and the incredible pairing of Matt Damon and Christian Bale, two of the most multi-talented performers around. Their talent shines with every moment they’re on the screen, and it’s hard to imagine the film without them. Bale, especially, brings so much energy to his cocky, rebellious persona, which is converted into life breathed onto the screen and joy watching him perform. Although it may be underwhelming for those who still have his transformation in Vice fresh in their minds, it’s hard to criticize the show-stealing skills he brings to every role, including this one. The racing scenes are loud and exciting, pulling you to Le Mans ’66 with top-notch production design, costumes, cinematography, and sound design. The dialogue is witty and engaging, with great tastes of humor throughout but also moments of drive, passion, and endurance to the finish line, both mentally and literally. There’s also a good amount of grounded material for Bale’s role, and a little less for Damon’s though he does get his moments to shine, especially in the opening and final scenes. The movie’s 152 minutes but you don’t feel the length at all — however, I would’ve omitted maybe 5 or 10 minutes as one plot point basically repeated itself at one point in the film. The one more thing I wish we got is a little more stakes — if Ford doesn’t win this race, what do the characters lose? Does Ferrari have anything to lose either? We don’t see much of this perspective, which could’ve added a bit more tension to the race against time to build and race the greatest car in the world. It overall does follow the basic racing/biopic/sports film formula, yet its the performers and behind-the-screen craftsman that make the film stand out over similar films such as Ron Howard’s Rush, another great racing film from the decade. There’s also plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, like I said, as well as a few somber moments, all of which hit home and blend together strongly.
Usually sports biopics like these focus on nothing other than to pull in lots of audiences with mainstream tropes, but in the case of Ford v Ferrari, “crowd-pleaser” is actually a term I’d use to compliment it — it caters to the wide audiences with excitement and humor, yet never sacrifices intellect or humanity for the loudness and prestige. Sure, it’s familiar at times, but the two names on the poster should be enough to get you excited — and if that’s not enough to convince you, it’s got adrenaline, spirit, and soul — This is the kind of film that was made to bring people together.