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Film Review: Ford v Ferrari

Monday 18 November 2019

Peter Malone, ACBC
 
Starring Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, JJ Feild, Noah Jupe, Ray McKinnon, Tracy Letts, Remo Girone.Directed by James Mangold. 152 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language)

Audiences seeming unanimous that this is a very enjoyable film to watch. This reviewer is not in any way a petrol head but is prepared to make a declaration also how interesting and entertaining the film is.

This is a story of the 1960s, rivalry between the American carmakers, Ford, and the Italians, Ferrari. We get a potted history of Henry Ford, his inspiration, inventions, development of his company and how Henry II has inherited it, feeling that it has settled down to familiarity by the 1960s and wanting something more and exciting. In the meantime, in Italy, the Ferrari company has excelled in speed racing, especially at the 24-hour Le Mans competition.

We are introduced to two drivers, one American, Carroll Shelby, the other British, Ken Miles. Both had served in World War II and had achieved great success in racing competitions. The film opens with Shelby winning a competition in 1959 but with difficulties that stop him from driving but moving him into design and vehicle production. Miles, with his family, lives in the United States running a repair garage but not succeeding financially.

Matt Damon gives a very strong performance as Carroll Shelby. Christian Bale, as always, takes on a far more complex character in Miles, champion, intuitive in his understanding of machines and identifying with them, but very difficult to work with.

So this is the context for Henry Ford II and his quest to construct a competition-winning car. Playwright and actor Tracy Letts gives an imperial (and imperious) dominating performance as Ford. This contrasts with Jon Bernthal as enthusiastic entrepreneur Lee Iacocca and Josh Lucas as a manipulative manager-executive, Beebe. Iacocca’s plan had been to buy the Ferrari company but it fails, Ferrari doing a deal with Fiat.

So, much of the film focuses on the building and testing of the new car, dramatisation of the friendship between the two drivers (although a strong fistfight ensues during the development), the details of the building of the car, explanation of the different stages of development, the testing.

Ken Miles, supported by a long-suffering wife, Molly (Caitriona Balfe) and a son who idolises his father (Noah Jupe) is not the favourite driver for Beebe who plots against him. Shelby, who is caught between Myles’s intensity and managing the Ford executives, does a deal that if Miles wins Daytona, he can drive at Le Mans (where the Ford cars, without Miles and Shelby, have had disastrous runs, to the delight of Ferrari).

For those who follow speed racing, they will know the outcome of the Le Mans race with Miles driving. For those who do not know the outcome as they watch the film, there is quite some drama in the gruelling 24-hour race, dangers, some spectacular accidents, demands on the car, on Miles himself, on Ford pressure for promoting the company.

The screenplay was written by the British Butterworth brothers, playwrights, and there is some very interesting dialogue, speeches throughout the film, delivered intensely by the two stars. (And, with some relief, the British Miles expresses himself in very British terms, and we can identify with his exasperation “Bloody Hell” instead of four-letter alternatives! He is also prone to cups of tea!

The film was directed by James Mangold, who has shown himself a versatile in a whole range of genre films. It is often excitingly photographed, well-paced in its editing, and enjoyable film for most audiences.
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