Ford V Ferrari is an excellent sports drama that proves you don’t have to be an expert on the rules to lose yourself in the game.
James Mangold is the kind of director who’s displayed countless times throughout his career that a powerful story with intricate characters is always going to be more engaging than a mindless blockbuster showcase. He subverted expectations by turning an iconic superhero into a flawed and weakened protagonist in Logan, and rejected the traditional maximalism of modern Westerns in 3:10 to Yuma – it’s something he’s always proven himself to be really good at, and Ford V Ferrari sticks to that formula. Instead of giving audiences the oversaturated, superficial sports movie that it easily could’ve been, he crafted an intimate portrayal of ambition, obsession, and the complex effects these traits can have on ourselves and our loved ones.
At its core, Ford V Ferrari is about two racing enthusiasts who come together to build a vehicle capable of rivaling the Ferrari race cars. It’s based on the true story of Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), two of the most innovative and important figures in the history of race car manufacturing. The pair offer two of their most vulnerable and enthusiastic performances as this real-life duo, bringing the characters to life and providing the film with all the energy it needs to make those racing scenes as exciting and gripping as they can be. Mangold’s script and direction immediately sucks the audience into the story, building a flawless momentum that never lets them go.
But in addition to these fantastic set pieces and fast-paced storytelling, Ford V Ferrari also manages to keep things slow and thoughtful when it needs to. By pulling on the reins of his storytelling, Mangold gives a whole new depth to these characters and offers some interesting commentary on their behavior and relationships. Instead of just slamming his foot on the pedal and racing through the story as quickly and excitingly as possible, the director really opens up this narrative and explores the many ideas and lessons that can be learned from it. It’s not just about racing, but also the influence that racing holds over these two men – and how dangerous that strength of obsession can be.
That’s not to say it presents racing in a negative way, because Ford V Ferrari is clearly a story that’s rightly in love with its own world. It’s got all the technical explanations and high-speed racing scenes that you’d expect from a narrative that’s so submerged in the world of sports cars, but it never makes this its entire identity. Instead, Mangold expertly makes racing (the very thing this story’s about) into merely a backdrop to explore his own ideas and interpretations of these men. In the same way that movies like Whiplash aren’t entirely about drumming and Raging Bull isn’t just about boxing, Ford V Ferrari is much more of a character study that just happens to include this sport.
When it comes to the performances, Ford V Ferrari also shines brighter than most could’ve anticipated. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like the kind of intense project that could pull such powerful work from Bale and Damon, but Mangold’s focus on the quieter aspects of his character’s journeys gives them endless opportunities to display their talents in a more subdued and less blatant way. In particular, it’s Bale that steals the show in his transformative role as Ken Miles. Much like many of the actor’s most memorable characters, Miles is flawed and troubled – but that’s exactly what makes him so interesting and gives Bale so much material to work with. It’s genuinely some of his best work, which is made even more impressive by the strength of his existing portfolio.
On a technical level, Ford V Ferrari is James Mangold’s strongest and most consistent movie of them all. Its Oscar-winning editing and sound design are exquisite, truly immersing the audience in this world and making those race sequences pop out of the screen. Every single moment feels perfectly-crafted by the film’s crew to make it as memorable as possible, and each moment clearly has a purpose in the greater scale of the story. It’s James Mangold at his best, transforming what many audiences would understandably misjudge as another big-budget sports drama into something infinitely more profound and powerful.
Ford V Ferrari is now available to watch on digital and on demand. Watch Ford V Ferrari!