A Race To Win: Ford V. Ferrari
In 1959, Carroll Shelby made auto racing history when he became the first American driver to be a part of a winning team at the 24-hour Le Mans race. Not long after that, he had to give up racing due to health issues. However, he went from racing cars to designing them for other racers. When Ford called on Shelby a few years later to design a car that could defeat the very successful Ferrari team, they started a new effort in Ford V. Ferrari. Ford President Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) calls on Shelby (Matt Damon) after Ford failed to acquire the cash-strapped Ferrari company, despite an offer made on behalf of Ford by Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal). Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) instead accepted an offer from Fiat that would leave him involved in the company he founded. The perceived slight made Ford so upset, he decided he needed to make a point.
On his end, Shelby enlisted the aid of Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a British emigre and racer who struggled with his own auto repair shop. Because he had been characterized as a difficult racer, Miles had to settle for racing independently. Shelby liked the hard-nosed Miles and did his best to appeal to Miles' strengths as a racer, and eventually enlisted his aid in both racing and designing. Failure at the next Le Mans, however, made Ford doubt Shelby. Shelby complained about Ford making decisions by committee, rather than letting racing decisions lie in his hands. Ford agrees to let Shelby have control over the cards themselves, but he puts executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) in a position of oversight on other issues. Beebe doesn't want Miles behind the wheel at the 1966 Le Mans race, but Shelby puts his company to keep his collaborator behind the wheel. Miles wins the 24-hour Daytona race to earn a seat at Le Mans, but Beebe is not done with his directives.
After two stand alone Wolverine movies (The Wolverine and Logan), director James Mangold hits the track with high-octane energy in Ford V. Ferrari (alternately titled Le Mans '66 in countries outside the USA). On one hand, a spurned Ford devotes much effort to defeat Ferrari. On the other hand, he lets Shelby (and by extension, Miles) know that the racing team will win the Ford way. The two companies don't always agree on a victory strategy, and Shelby learns how to deal with a corporation, which means Shelby and company don't always get their way. The script comes from versatile siblings Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (as well as Jason Keller here), whose previous collaborations have also included the fact-based pictures Fair Game (about an outed CIA agent) and Get On Up (about music legend James Brown). They show wheeling and dealing that occurs both on the track and off of it.
Damon and Bale make a great team as like-minded collaborators. Miles, to Shelby, was the driver who best represented Shelby behind the wheel. Shelby tended to be more mild-mannered and businesslike, but he, like the driver he hired and defended, could make some noise. During Le Mans, racing officials complained of all of the spare parts the Shelby team brought. He continued the heated debate that Ken had started by quoting the officials' own rule book to them. Bale does a fine job at two sides of Ken Miles. On the track, he made his feelings known - and often quite loudly. At home, he switched gears with his supportive wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe), who hoped to get into the auto racing business himself. Leading the capable support is Letts as the grandson of the Ford founder. He might have the final word on all racing decisions, but he gets very emotional when Carroll gives Henry a test spin.
Ford V. Ferrari tells the tale of two men who worked their way back into prominence in a sport they made a career. Each played a part in the support of the other as they learned how to work with one of the biggest American automakers. Both companies believed that nothing less than success would do. Even though I'm not an auto racing fan, I enjoyed the fast-paced action on and off the track. Ford V. Ferrari is as confident a film as the main men portrayed in it.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Ford V. Ferrari 3.5 stars. A cinematic checkered flag.