It’s off to the races with “Ford v Ferrari”, a solid and enjoyable racing movie with a truly spectacular lead performance by Christian Bale.
Ever a chameleon, Bale transforms into rough-around-the-edges racing legend Ken Miles. The way he stands, the way he talks, the way he tilts his head; it’s a truly fascinating character to watch on screen. It’s especially fun when he gets behind the wheel of one of the fastest race cars ever built and burns rubber like his life depends on it.
Come for the really cool racing scenes, stay for the great lead performance.
In 1966, the Ford Motor Company decided to improve their image by getting into sports car racing. Specifically, Henry Ford II wanted to beat Enzo Ferrari at the famous 24 Hours at Le Mans, the most prestigious endurance race in the world. To that end, he hired engineer and former Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby to design a Ford race car, and Shelby hired Ken Miles to get behind the wheel.
On its surface, “Ford v Ferrari” is a very good racing movie. The film pays a lot of attention to building the race car in the first half of the film, and then the actual race in the climax is one of the greats. It’s an enjoyable journey from start to photo finish. But the real heart of the movie, what really makes it purr, is Bale as Ken Miles. The old racer might not be a household name, but Bale really brings Miles to life, making him standout as a true individual. It’s in the way he walks, in the way he talks; this simply isn’t Christian Bale anymore.
The acting really connects the audience with Miles, especially when both he and the camera get in the driver’s seat.
Actor Matt Damon is not as charismatic in his role as Carroll Shelby, but he still works nicely as a screen partner to Bale. It’s a solid cast, with the possible exception of actor Josh Lucas as the movie’s villain, Ford executive Leo Beebe. Lucas is known for playing slimy characters, but Leo Beebe might be his slimiest, and the movie leans way too hard into making him the villain.
I don’t know enough about the real history to know if all of the movie character’s antics are based on Beebe’s real actions in 1966, but “Ford v Ferrari” goes overboard.
Every time Shelby and Miles prove that they know exactly what they’re doing, the movie throws a Beebe monkey wrench into the works for seemingly no other reason than just to create drama for the picture. It gets a little silly.
But a silly villain aside, “Ford v Ferrari” is about the cars, about the race and about the larger-than-life men that made it all work, and in doing so, the movie easily glides across the finish line.
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