“There’s a point at 7,000 RPMs where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless. It disappears. All that’s left, a body moving through space, and time.”
Carrol Shelby in “Ford V Ferrari”
In one of the scenes in Ford V Ferrari, Joe Bernthal who plays Lee Iacocca tells Henry Ford, “Enzo Ferrari says that you are not Henry Ford, you are Henry Ford II, ” referring to a conversation in which Iacocca engages with Ferrari on the prospect of Ford Corporation buying into Ferrari. Fuming and disgusted, Ford literally orders his management team to build a racing machine which could rival Ferrari cars in speed with a mission to win the Le Mans circuit race in 1966. Echoing what corporate ego can do and still does, the film takes the viewer in this exciting world of racing cars, towering egos, and men passionate about speed and glory.
Ford V Ferrari is a film directed by James Mangold (Logan) and stars Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, Christian Bale as Ken Miles and Joe Bernthal as Lee Iacocca in pivotal roles. The film talks about the famed rivalry between Ford Corporation and Ferrari to attain domination at Le Mans and to push Ford as the new leader in the racing cars category.
The Plot of “Ford V Ferrari”
Ford V Ferrari is set in the 1960s and explores the life of a racing car driver Carrol Shelby who was the only American to have won the “24 Hours of Le Mans” circuit in France in 1959. But he won it driving an Aston Martin vehicle. As he develops a heart problem, he quits racing and dreams of building an all American racing team with an American car. Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company which is headed by Henry Ford’s son is struggling to find new ideas to develop its already large consumer car business which doesn’t enjoy much reputation when it comes to speed engines. Ford’s top exec Lee Iacocca puts forward an idea to buy Ferrari to make Ford look more competitive. When that deal falls apart, Ford plans to build his own racing car (Ford GT40) and team with Shelby leading the charge. To do this, Shelby chooses British American driver Ken Miles to lead the team. The film then chronicles their struggles and challenges to achieve their dream.
What is “24 Hours of Le Mans”?
It’s a car racing competition where the cars race for 24 hours straight with multiple drivers held in the town of Le Mans, France. The basic objective is to see whether these automobiles can survive the 24 hours speed racing without actually breaking down. The competition is being held since 1923. Till 1966, no American car had won this prestigious race.
The Friendship of Carol Shelby and Ken Miles
The 1960s was particularly a struggling time for American auto majors who were being rivalled by European counterparts. The Americans had the money muscle and scale but lacked the innovation and design feel. Its true till today, most of the Americans still prefer Japanese, European and Korean brands to American brands. It was also the time when there was a lot of pressure to build “The Great American Brand”. Corporate America and its rigid structures were becoming popular for low innovation and ugly politics. Its this backdrop which drives the conflict in Ford V Ferrari. Be it the egoistic Henry Ford II, be it Leo Beebe who will crush any idea to please his boss, be it the various flaws in Ford’s manufacturing. For example, like the car door which never closes on Le Mans were all glittering examples of a time where Corporate greed will easily chew values and ethics for breakfast. It’s against this backdrop, James Mangold builds and evolves the character of Carrol Shelby and Ken Miles. Their friendship is pitted against this attitudinal behemoth again and again. At some point, the viewer too just breaks down with this tug of war. The relentlessness of Shelby in backing Miles is just extraordinary. Its like multiple stones are being hurled at Miles, but Shelby just keeps intervening and keeps hitting the ball to protect the autonomy of Miles. Their chemistry is the essence of the story of Ford V Ferrari.
The superlative narrative of James Mangold
Mangold has given gritty, dark emotional dramas like “Logan”. His grip over his storytelling is top rate. In Ford V Ferrari , from an analytical perspective, it’s essentially a story about a rivalry between Italian and American automobile majors. However, Mangold builds the story from a human perspective. It’s not Ford the company , its Shelby and the top brass and their respective character arcs. Similarly, the legend Enzo Ferrari/his principles are the heart and soul of the Ferrari cars. The relationship that Ken Miles shares with his son is also quite fascinating. They both discuss racing and cars at their garage, their home and the racing circuit.
Mangold also takes a stance on various leadership roles in Corporate America. The portrayal of Henry Ford II is a case in point. It also looks at how Ken Miles treats his fellow racers. Carol Shelby as the guy who has to get people to agree with the hierarchy and politics within Ford is also quite detailed.
In one of the scenes, Enzo Ferrari bows his hat to Ken Miles from a distance. That pretty much captures the human spirit at the centre of a fierce sports battle.
The visuals are lush and real. “The 24 Hours of Le Mans” race looks authentic and brutal. You as a viewer, are almost sitting in the car with Miles every step of the way. Even in the final laps, the camera is just next to Miles’ helmet and you can hear him breathing. The immersion is complete. It’s almost as if you are watching with a VR headset. The scene in which rain is pouring on the circuit is gripping. The work of cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska, Walk The Line) adds a sense of realism and exposes the threat which these drivers face everyday.
Christian Bale as Ken Miles totally steals the show as the “salt of the earth” character who cares about his family and is madly obsessed with having a leadership in car racing.
Caitriona Balf plays Mollie.
Miles shares a very frank and grounded camaraderie with Ken. In one scene, she tells Ken that she fell in love with Ken and the love of grease.
Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby is very studied and maintains the behavioral equilibrium in the story.
Full marks to Joe Bernthal who plays the peacemaker-ish Lee Iacocca. Noah Jupe who plays Ken’s son is also very engaging.
Ford V Ferrari is a great film on speed, sports and families associated with it. It also chronicles a great friendship of two people who seemed like polar opposites.
I would give this movie a 9 out of 10 for its engaging narrative, clockwork production design and great performances.