There are many reasons to choose from when deciding whether or not to go see Ford v Ferrari. Casting is the obvious reason. Despite Matt Damon and Christian Bale occasionally putting their feet in their respective mouths and a lot of people treating Damon like Hollywood’s version of Nickelback (whom are hated for no logical reason and, yes, I still listen to), both are fantastic actors who are always worth the price of admission.
Another obvious reason is to watch cars go fast. While some might argue the movie should feature more racing, it features plenty. I poke a lot of fun at elements of movies that are strictly there to provide exposition, but exposition is necessary and there are good and bad ways to do it. The non-racing scenes of Ford v Ferrari exposit in good ways, keeping you engaged in the film rather than making you check your watch every two minutes. More importantly, those racing scenes are worth it. They are filled with tension, great cinematography, and several cars going really, really fast.
In full disclosure, I am not a racing fan. I like fast cars and I especially like Formula One and Grand Prix cars because those cars trigger my engineering brain in both their aesthetics and mechanical design. But I do not watch races. Like golf and cycling, they are long and mind-numbingly redundant. Anyone who deliberately sits down and watches one of these things from beginning to end is either single or about to be. And don’t even get me started on the worst ahem..sport..ahem ever foisted on humanity known as NASCAR.
(Side note: I am huge baseball fan and you are wrong.)
Speaking of which, I have no idea if NASCAR fans are interested in a racing movie that features people speaking in intelligible accents not named Jeff Gordon. I am sure a movie featuring the famed Carol Shelby (portrayed by Damon) will draw them in, but those people probably won’t be too happy when the film insults stock car racing, basically calling it infantile and amateur (“all they do is turn left”). You bet I guffawed and the film does it multiple times.
If Damon and Bale do nothing for you and cars are just four wheels and an engine to you, how do you feel about story and characters? This film is a historical fiction doubling as a biopic of Shelby and racer Ken Miles (Bale). The story is about Shelby and Miles, with financial backing from Ford Motor Company, developing a supercar to race in the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which I had never heard of prior to this film. The film takes place over 1965 and 1966, with the climax being the 1966 Le Mans.
(Side note: If you are a big racing fan and know the history of Le Mans, then you know that Ford began racing the Le Mans in 1964, not 1965. There are other small changes to the actual story too, so if you are the kind of person that cannot stand when movies doesn’t “stay true to the book,” then you should probably get over yourself.)
Like I said, Damon and Bale never disappoint, and this film is no different. Damon delivers a Shelby who is constantly being torn by loyalty to his friends, especially Miles, and loyalty to himself in the form of staying in control of the racing team. Bale delivers a cocksure Miles who seems to be on the edge of self-destruction, but is actually fully in control and aware of how his decision affect his family and friends. Both men are eminently likeable and sympathetic and you will have absolutely no trouble rooting for them. Especially when it comes to the Ford guys they have to deal with.
The whole reason Shelby is tabbed to lead and build a race team is because Ford CEO Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is insulted by Ferrari owner Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) when a deal to purchase Ferrari is scuttled by Enzo. Ford II gives vice president Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) the green light for the racing team, tasking senior executive vice president Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) to be in charge. Ford II is a very dislikeable person, but in a conventional CEOs-are-narcissistic-dicks way. Iacocca is actually an advocate of Shelby and Miles, but his importance to the film is over once the team is established. Beebe is the guy you will hate by the end of this film, as he is consistently undermining Shelby and Miles, sometimes acting as if he trying to make them fail, even though they are his team. Lucas delivers a slimy, asshat of a character, every bit as loathsome as Shelby and Miles are sympathetic. Every time Beebe is talking, you hope somebody crushes his larynx with a wrench.
If there is one negative thing about the film, it’s that the final couple of scenes after the climactic race are completely unnecessary. Without spoiling things for you (and definitely don’t Google the race if you don’t want spoilers), the film foreshadows something that may or not happen during the climax. The tension built on this is palpable and makes for a great experience for the audience as it plays out. Once the race is over, the tension releases and you, the audience, are perfectly satisfied. Then, these additional scenes happen and that satisfaction is undermined because everything in the movie had already received closure. Luckily, it is such a small part of the movie that you can just dismiss it as a figment of your imagination.
So, pick your reason. Good acting, good storytelling, a good villain, cool cars, not NASCAR – any or all are enough to justify spending money on this film. If anything, it will inspire you to go find out a little more about Ken Miles, Carroll Shelby, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It inspired me and now I know a lot more about that race and its history. Though, not enough to watch a real race.
Rating: Do not ask for any money back for any reason.