Welcome to Arkansas Fight’s Film Room, our weekly movie discussion column that help us branch out from covering Arkansas Athletics all the time. You can read last week’s column on The Irishman here. This week, we’re discussing Ford vs Ferrari.
As you’d except from someone that writes and podcasts for Arkansas Fight, I am a HUGE sports fan. I have a team in most leagues and at least a passing interest in most games being played on any given day. That said, I’ll be the first to admit that motorsports have passed me by. I was raised in the south but somehow never caught the NASCAR bug. Formula 1 seemed like literal alien sport to me (you can see their heads hanging out of the car.)
So, a movie based around Ford building a car to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is not exactly something that sounds like it would be in the sweet spot of movies that I would want to see. Normally, reader, you’d be right, but this movie just so happens to star two of my favorite actors working today: Matt Damon and Christian Bale.
Directed by James Mangold (Logan, Walk The Line) Ford vs Ferrari tells the story of Henry Ford II’s (Tracy Letts) mission to beat Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) at the one game that Ferarri knows best: building fast cars.
Enter Carroll Shelby, played by Damon. Shelby knows a thing or two about what it takes to beat Ferrari — he won the 24 Hours of La Mans in 1959. A heart condition now keeps him from behind the wheel, but the Texan doesn’t let that stop him from taking on the challenge when it comes to building cars.
It’s Shelby who convinces Ford II and his suits Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) and Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) to hire Ken Miles (Bale). Miles is a hothead who doesn’t particularly care to sell himself out to Corporate America, playing the perfect antithesis to Bebe’s starched shirt pompousness. There’s one thing Miles can do, and that’s drive. That’s all he needs to do and that’s exactly how Shelby lays it out.
Damon and Bale both give extraordinary performances. Bale, last seen as Vice President Dick Cheney in Vice, plays Ken Miles with an uncanny physical ability. There’s several scenes where only Miles’ face is visible due to his racing helmet, but you never question exactly what he’s thinking because Bale is so good at letting you know. Damon taps into the depth of a man who knows he has what it takes to beat Ferrari and who will go to war to fight (sometimes literally) for what he believes in. He’s quick tempered and even quicker witted and Damon does wonders in a role that demands him to be both an everyman and American legend.
James Mangold has a history of getting a lot out of his actors and using movies as trojan horses to make bigger points (think the previously mentioned Walk The Line or Girl, Interrupted). In a recent interview Mangold discusses the importance of building worlds, even if it’s something as simple as 1960’s California and he does that in spades here. It would be easy to make a boring movie about corporate boardroom wars, but Mangold does a great job of capturing the humanity behind the battle for speed supremacy that drives the film when it’s not on the track.
It takes a few false starts for Shelby and Miles to get to Le Mans, but the journey to get there is a fun one (no spoilers here). The racing scenes, both at Le Mans and otherwise, are supremely shot and incredibly fun to watch. But it’s Damon and Bale that are the engine of this movie. They keep it moving forward at a mile a minute.
Ford vs Ferrari is now playing in theaters.
Thanks for reading Arkansas Fight’s Film Room! We’re looking forward to talking movies with Razorback nation. If there’s an older movie you want us to revisit hit us up in the comments. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. You can chat movies and bad sports takes with Saul anytime by following him on Twitter at @SaulMalone. For mini movie reviews, you can follow Saul on Letterboxd.