By: Trevor Chartrand
It doesn’t take a car enthusiast to enjoy the high-octane drama that fuels Ford v Ferrari, one of the best movies of 2019. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Logan) helms this fast paced, in-your-face film that’s based on the true story of the ‘car wars’ that took place in the late 1960s. The film comes fully loaded with a classic look, (mostly) strong characters, and a tight, focused story. Ford v Ferrari is easy to watch and even easier to enjoy.
During this dramatization of real events, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is hired by the Ford Motor Company to build a racecar to take to Le Mans, a 24 hour race in France. To help build the car, Shelby enlists the assistance of a hot-headed and unpredictable driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale). In order to design the race-winning car, the two of them fight an uphill battle that pits them against engineering challenges, a corporate hive mind, and their own massive egos.
Much like the cars in the film, this script moves pretty darn fast. The film’s two-and-a-half hour runtime breezes by at a rapid pace. The film is undoubtedly plot driven and saturated with story, but it’s also rich in entertainment value. The narrative may be simple, but it’s also laser-focused and unwavering – never lost in subplots or over-the-top flourishes. The characters are fleshed out just enough to be relatable, though there isn’t much depth to most of them. The story the film tells is effective and balanced, making for a movie that’s very fun to watch.
Speaking of the characters, the cast elevates the material with some really strong performances, bringing a lot of life and levity to this tale. This is especially the case with Christian Bale’s fiery portrayal of Ken Miles – whose character arc is the very heart and soul of this film. Damon is also excellent as Shelby, and together with Knives Out’s Daniel Craig he proves that 2019 was the year of the southern accents.
There are a few missed opportunities in the film, especially with the tragically underdeveloped Mollie Miles (Caitriona Balfe). Ken Miles’ wife is an intriguing character, who unfortunately spends most of the movie in the backseat, so to speak. Given the length of the film, there’s certainly opportunity there to make her more than a footnote.
Most notably, the filmmakers do an excellent job recreating the look and feel of the 1960s, especially during racing sequences. Certain camera angles and shot durations recreate the filmmaking style of an older era. While this tactic perhaps removes the ‘realistic look’ most contemporary films go for, to me, the blending of old and new makes for an incredibly timeless visual style. The cinematography is executed in a way that really sells the era the film is set in – in fact, it almost appears as if the movie could have been shot during that same time period.
The final moments of Ford v Ferrari could be best described as a well-crafted attack on your emotions. From the ending of the big race until the moment the credits roll, the film takes audiences on a series of emotional highs and lows in rapid succession. Is it manipulative? Yes… but it’s also effective storytelling. These filmmakers push all the right buttons in all the right ways, creating a remarkable ride of a movie. Simply put, the strength of Ford v Ferrari ultimately lies in its simplicity.
Ford v Ferrari is now available on 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and Digital HD.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor