By Troy Ribeiro
“Ford v Ferrari”; Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon, JJ Field, Jack McMullen; Director: James Mangold; Rating: * * * and 1/2 (three and half stars)
Based on facts for the battle of supremacy in the mid-1960s between the two titular automotive giants, director James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” is a one-dimensional, old-fashioned period sports drama that balances thrills, laughs and emotions, in equal measure.
One-dimensional because the film is much less about the fierce competitors and their vehicles, and more about the men who pilot the exceptional machines to greatness, and battle against short-sighted employers.
The film is old-fashioned because it is a story about underdogs, instincts that cannot be taught, and impulses that cannot be denied — a fact that is deeply embedded in the fabric of every American mythmaking. Also, it is structured in a formulaic manner.
The film adeptly chronicles both the era of racing and the legendary men of the races, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, who transformed it.
Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby, the first American driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Sidelined by health issues, he joins Ford as an automobile designer, after the company fails to collaborate with Ferrari, who have been constant winners at Le Mans.
He ropes in Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a British emigre with extraordinary aptitude behind the wheel and a terrible reputation for being inflexible, obstinate and difficult to handle. How the two men work against the clock to develop a vehicle to compete in the race, which is less than 90 days away, while simultaneously battling Ford’s bureaucracy, forms the crux of the tale.
Together Damon and Bale seem enthusiastically immersed in the colourful characters they play. They spar well together very engagingly, both when in cahoots and at odds. Damon effortlessly oozes the all-American charm, and resolve, of the very specific era that Shelby needs.
Similarly, Christian Bale is mesmerising as Miles, the lowly, rowdy, mechanic, constantly aware of his age and commitment to his family. He gives a humane touch to his character, especially when he is bonding with his son Peter.
Peter tells him: “You can’t make every lap perfect.” He replies, “But I can try.” Only goes out to show that he is a go-getter who is not willing to give up easily.
Caitriona Balfe as Miles’ spry wife Mollie and Noah Jupe as Mile’s concerned son Peter are natural and engaging. They add heart to the tale.
Tracy Letts as Henry Ford Jr., gives one of his best performances to date as the egotistical and driven linchpin for this conflict. Josh Lucas as Leo Beebe, is typecast as the Ford executive who takes a strong dislike to Miles and can’t see that success lies beyond brand consistency.
The pace of the film is racy but the plot written by screenwriters Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, has some abrupt scenes that make the viewing a bit jarring, despite astutely manoeuvring the story to convince us that it takes more than just a perfectly-calibrated, premium vehicle in order to win.
While the engaging, sharp human drama is key to establishing bonds, with characters risking their lives and livelihood to chase greatness, the film is primarily an inroad to the racing itself.
This film reminds you of the 2013-released Ron Howard-directed, “Rush”. But unlike in “Rush”, the races here are disappointing because the adrenaline in the chase, is missing.