Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The new racing film Ford v Ferrari can be categorized in a few different ways. It could be defined as a sports movie, a historical drama, even a biopic. But in many ways, the film works best as a buddy movie. Like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood released earlier this year, Ford v Ferrari features two of the biggest movie stars on the planet—in this case, Matt Damon and Christian Bale. And even though their friendship is a little more combative than that of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s in the Tarantino film, you leave Ford v Ferrari feeling grateful that you got to spend the past couple of hours simply hanging out with a couple of movie stars being cool movie stars.
The movie takes place in the middle of the 1960s. Henry Ford II is upset, feeling that the company his grandfather built is getting stale, and he tasks his employees to come up with new ideas for the company. Enter the ambitious Lee Iacocca, who suggests a partnership with the racing giant Ferrari, a company that is going broke. But when Ferrari not only rejects the proposal, but insists on insulting Iacocca’s boss, Mr. Ford takes it personally. He becomes obsessed with defeating Ferrari in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which Ferrari has dominated for five years straight.
To accomplish this, Mr. Ford retains the services of Carroll Shelby, one of the few Americans to win the race when he did so in 1959. Due to a bad ticker, Shelby has had to give up the driver’s seat, but he is still known as one of the best car designers in the world. So Shelby is recruited to build the car with the capability of beating a Ferrari; but he knows that the car alone will not be enough to secure the victory: he also needs the best driver in the world. To him, that driver is Ken Miles, but Miles’ abrasive personality is notorious and doesn’t necessarily sit well with the suits making the decisions for Ford.
Both Matt Damon, as Shelby, and Christian Bale, as Miles, are absolutely terrific in this movie. Although he speaks with a more southern accent, Matt Damon is basically playing the ultra-cool version of his movie star persona; but much like Brad Pitt did in Hollywood, he does it so well that you cannot help but want to hang with him for every second that he is onscreen.
Bale certainly has the showier role and I just want to say for the record that I tend to prefer “funny” Bale, like we get here, to “super serious” Bale. Although his character in this movie is often gruff and can definitely be a jerk, it is portrayed in a loving or “fun” way and is contrasted nicely by the tenderness he shows in the scenes with his wife and son. Shelby describes Miles as a “puppy dog” at one point and that is just how Bale plays him, but a puppy dog with plenty of bark.
On the surface, the movie is about racing and a clash between the titular Messrs. Ford and Ferrari, but ultimately, it is a story about the friendship between Shelby and Miles. Damon’s and Bale’s performances sell that idea, even when they are awkwardly wrestling on a street corner.
That said, there is a lot of racing in Ford v Ferrari and it is great entertainment. The climactic race at Le Mans takes up nearly a full hour of the movie’s 150 minute runtime and it is exhilarating, whether you are in the car with Bale or in the pit with Damon. And although computer effects were used to touch up some of the aesthetic details in the race scenes, most of the actual racing is real. The filmmakers took advantage of pod cars, allowing Bale and other actors to be sitting in the actual driver’s seat as the car is speeding along the track, while a stunt driver did the actual driving from a rig built onto the vehicle. The result is so effective that it is easy to forget that you are watching a recreation of the race and not the actual race itself.
Ford v Ferrari tells an entertaining story about an accomplishment of American ingenuity that few people outside of devoted racing fans would have been aware of. And no matter how you characterize it—sports movie, historical drama, etc.—the movie works on all levels. Ultimately, though, it is the buddy movie that delivers the biggest payoff.
Ford v Ferrari opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.