Director: James Mangold
Writers: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth & Jason Keller
Stars: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe
This film, also known as Ford v Ferrari in some territories, follows the grudge match that got Ford into the racing game. After a business deal goes south, Henry Ford II vows to show Enzo Ferrari just how big a mistake he’s made by making the fastest racing car in the world.
Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby, a racecar driver benched before his time because of medical problems. He now makes custom sports cars for the rich, but he’s still struggling financially, so when a representative from Ford shows up at his door with a blank cheque and challenges him to build a car that can beat Ferrari, Shelby doesn’t take much convincing. But he needs a driver and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is his top choice, but the suits at Ford don’t like Miles; he’s brash, opinionated and prone to losing his rag, but you know he’s going to end up driving eventually. Caitriona Balfe from the TV show Outlander stops her time-travelling long enough to play Miles’s long-suffering wife, Mollie. She doesn’t have a lot to do, but she gets a couple of memorable scenes and, along with Ken’s adoring son, Peter, paints a picture of the driver as a conflicted family man. He loves the adolescent thrill that racing gives him, but he knows it isn’t paying the bills and is about to jack it all in when Shelby shows up with an offer he can’t refuse.
The film recreates the late sixties flawlessly and seeing the Ferrari showroom is car-porn for any enthusiast. I’m not a car racing fan by any stretch of the imagination, and frankly the thought of driving in a twenty-four hour race would bore me to death, but this film still had me gripped from start to finish. Most of the 2hrs 32mins running time flies by at 200mph so I didn’t even notice it being that long.
It’s a David and Goliath story and the director makes no bones about who’s the baddie of the piece. During the final race, as Enzo Ferrari shouts orders to his pit team from the grandstand, I couldn’t help but think of Mussolini on that famous balcony screaming propaganda. Whether this is intentional or not, I don’t know, but it seems like an apt parallel.
The Ford team aren’t without their drawbacks too. The suits constantly interfere with the design and building of the car, instead of leaving it to the experts. Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) is the worst of these and is the kind of spineless, toadying yes-man that would make Wayland Smithers seem like a rebel in comparison.
If you’re a fan of fast cars and racing in general, I think you’ll probably have a great time, but even if – like me – your knowledge of cars starts and ends with how to drive one, there’s still a great tale of the underdog against the giant that everyone can relate to. I didn’t know how the big race turned out in ‘66 and I won’t spoil it here; suffice to say it’s bittersweet, but when you’re making a movie based on a true story, some things are set in stone. The final scene sees some terrific acting from Damon. I’ve rarely seen him better. You may even leave the cinema wiping your eyes.
The film isn’t setting the box-office alight at the time of writing, having made back a little over half of it’s $97M budget so far. I assume this is because most Americans have probably never heard of Le Mans (hence that alternate title) and are more interested in Nascar. The long runtime and niche subject matter mean it probably won’t be unseating Avengers: Endgame anytime soon, but I hope good word of mouth helps it to a respectable showing. It’s much better than your average Hollywood fare, and deserves to be seen on a big screen.