There needs to be something extra special under the hood of a racing movie for it to be remembered. Without the drama and the driving welded together just right, all we’ve got (to quote Ricky Bobby) is cars going ‘real fast’. Thankfully, James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari (or Le Mans ’66 depending where you are) flies off the starting line within the first minute and demonstrates not only how far he’s come as a director, but how little he has to do with both Matt Damon and Christian Bale at the wheel.
Telling the true story of the 1966 battle between the biggest titans on the tarmac, Ford v Ferrari, follows the two men that were caught in the middle of it. Matt Damon plays former Le Mans driver and motor legend, Carroll Shelby, who is tasked with building a brand new vehicle for Ford that’ll mean not just a victory in the coveted competition, but a win against the reigning champion and creme de la creme of car makers, Ferrari. A well-oiled machine is useless without a driver behind it though, and as a result, Shelby enlists the help of top-tier wheelman, Ken Miles who rules the road like a king, but whose communication skills have all the finesse of a flatbed truck.
Bale, like always, continues to prove himself as one of the greatest actors of our time, viewing the world through Miles’ sideways glance and suffering fools the way one would assume he does parking tickets.
It’s top quality chalk and cheese from the pair, bubbling on a chemistry that you can’t get enough of. Bale, like always, continues to prove himself as one of the greatest actors of our time, viewing the world through Miles’ sideways glance and suffering fools the way one would assume he does parking tickets. Channelling Miles and spouting shop-talk like a genetically engineered Top Gear presenter and swigging cups of tea and ‘ta-ra’s’ all over the place, he’s reigned in by Shelby who Matt Damon conjures as the super smooth Southerner, outmanoeuvring failure every time it comes his way. Constantly colliding with one another, their presence is one that never tires and reminds you that they deserved a lot more attention at the last awards season.
Besides the partnership between Bale and Damon, the other pairing that earns praise is Mangold’s direction and Phedon Papamichael’s stunning cinematography. Whether you’re a petrolhead or not, some of these sequences are absolutely breathtaking and thanks to the 60’s look, make Ford v Ferrari move like a polished classic. Bale might be selling every turn and swerve alone in that beautiful GT40, but the roads he’s heading down will have you on the edge of your seat in one instance and simply enjoying the ride in others. When it wants to, Ford v Ferrari moves like a dream and it’s hard not to fall in love with it. With that said, the lap time could do with a little trim that ironically slow the film down a tad, but this is a minor gripe for a film that should sit comfortably among Sunday afternoon favourites. Start your engines immediately.
Together the two are unstoppable and undeniably the winning element of the whole film, backed by equally impressive turns from the likes of Caitriona Balfe as Ken’s wife, Mollie, and Sean Bean’s trans-atlantic equal, Jon Bernthal as Ford marketing man, Lee Iacocca. Of course, with talent like this backing the film, all that’s left to do is drive, and here is where Mangold takes us for a real spin.