The following is a review of Ford v Ferrari, also known as Le Mans ’66 — Directed by James Mangold.
James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari tells the true story of the rivalry between Enzo Ferrari (played by Remo Girone) and Henry Ford II (played by Tracy Letts) in the lead-up to the 1966-edition of the French 24-hour race known as the ‘Le Mans.’ The film follows Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon), a former Le Mans winner and current automotive designer and engineer, and Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale), a testy but talented British race-car driver. Ford wants to beat Ferrari at his own game, so to speak, so he hires Shelby to design a racecar mighty enough to trounce the Italian rival, which had rejected Ford’s offer to purchase them. Shelby insists that Miles is the only man who understands the car they build together for Ford, but executives at Ford believe that Miles isn’t a company man, and they are prepared to derail the entire project to ensure that Shelby and his crew, none of whom are yes-men, follow their orders.
It is far too easy to simply compare James Mangold’s latest film to Ron Howard’s Rush. It is the obvious comparison, but I think it would be more accurate to compare it to another incredibly rewatchable sports film, which, really, requires very little prior knowledge of the sport to be enjoyed. I think James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is this year’s Moneyball. I’ve never watched more than a couple of minutes of an actual baseball game, but Moneyball is one of my favorite films to rewatch. I’ve never watched more than maybe an hour of the Le Mans, and I, generally, don’t care about motorsports, but I think Ford v Ferrari is one of the best films of the year. Both films are about independent-minded individuals fighting with traditionalists and not getting the credit they deserve. Ford v Ferrari is a brilliant spiritual successor to Bennett Miller’s Moneyball. Ford v Ferrari is an über-American crowdpleaser — complete with mavericks and Coca-Cola product placement — that is, from a certain point of view, anti-corporate and anti-bureaucracy. Refreshingly, it is willing to evenly criticize both companies that the film pits against each other.
While I am certainly not a person who would be able to tell you much about Fords or Ferraris, I do know that everything about James Mangold’s film about the 1966 Le Mans feels so authentic. It is a touching, thrilling, and jaw-dropping technical powerhouse with outstanding sound design, editing, and camera movements that get your blood pumping. This film is so engrossing that it makes you move in the theater-seat like you’re sitting next to the racecar-driver anticipating the turbulent and aggressive movement of the vehicle. Though I am sure James Mangold and his team used visual effects to create crashes and disguise movie-making trickery, every single race is exhilarating. Also, I think it’s frankly quite impressive that they successfully make the entire 1966 Le Mans race, which is most of the last hour of the film, feel exciting, even though they make a point of showing how short the racecourse is considering they are driving for 24 hours.
Matt Damon and Christian Bale are two of the greatest actors of their generation. So, it will surprise no one that they both give excellent performances in Ford v Ferrari. Christian Bale has the showier role, as his character is testy and sarcastic, and he has such good chemistry with both Noah Jupe, Caitriona Balfe, and Matt Damon. In fact, I think that the relationships that Bale creates with Jupe and Damon are the beating heart of Ford v Ferrari. Matt Damon gives a much subtler performance, but it is still one of the best performances of the year. Damon basically plays a lovable but sneaky cowboy, and it is arguably his best performance of the decade.
James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari contains one of the year’s very best ensemble casts. Everyone is great here, but, other than the two main stars, I would like to single out Noah Jupe, Jon Bernthal, and Tracy Letts for praise. I love the relationship between father and son that Bale and Jupe create together, and I think Jupe gives one of the very best performances from a young actor this year. Though Jon Bernthal’s role is not as significant as I had hoped, I think that Bernthal, who looks so enchantingly cool in this film, steals many scenes from greater stars. Tracy Letts, who is almost always great, gives a memorable supporting performance, and he has a scene that surprised me greatly. It’s a scene where Shelby tries to influence Letts’ character by driving around so fast that, eventually, Tracy Letts starts to weep. It is initially played for laughs, but Letts gets under your skin when he explains why he is so moved. It is one of the very best scenes in the film.
I like that her character’s complaints are perfectly reasonable, but Caitriona Balfe’s character — the wife of Bale’s Ken Miles — is an underwritten and clichéd disappointment. I do think that Balfe is perfectly fine in the film, though, and the underwritten nature of her character is one of my only problems with the film. The other character issue that I had with the film concerns Josh Lucas’ character, who might be a little bit cartoonish. I am absolutely sure that some people will think that this film is much too long. 152-minutes is a lot for a sports-film. The runtime never bothered me, I was never bored, but I do think the runtime could be so overwhelming that it might hinder repeat viewings.
At a time when Hollywood is basically only willing to spend money on proven or potential franchises, James Mangold’s big-budgeted studio-film Ford v Ferrari is a much-appreciated and delightful anomaly. James Mangold has crafted a funny, loving, and surprisingly moving film about fathers, sons, friends, colleagues, and mavericks. It is an almost irresistible film, and I have no problem admitting that I ate it all up. Ford v Ferrari is one of my favorite films of the year.
9 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.