Based on a true story, it is crammed with unearned emotional moments and factory-built male characters whose dedication to their sport we are expected to find adorable and heroic by turns. This is a standard-issue, middleweight biopic-type film, which comes complete with the now mandatory three factual sentences over the closing credits and the black-and-white photographs of the real-life people involved looking less attractive than the Hollywood stars who played them. James Mangold directs, from a serviceable original script by playwright Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller.
Playing colourful 1960s racing icons, Christian Bale and Matt Damon try to convince their bosses at Ford that the company can win Le Mans in this Horatio Alger-esque American success story. Most racing movies are about rivals, but not so “Ford v Ferrari,” which, despite its competition-oriented title, is actually the story of two friends, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles (played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale), who partnered with the Ford Motor Co. to beat Italian sports-car designer Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Both companies, Ford and Ferrari, are hurting when the movie opens. The American brand is having trouble attracting young buyers. Enter the Mustang — a beautiful set of wheels that Miles doesn’t take seriously — and a bold plan to buy out the Italian sports-car manufacturer. But Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) doesn’t go for it, upsetting Henry Ford II (the assembly-line genius’ insecure grandson) with harsh words about how he does business (the Italian cars are made by hand, and sit in a class of their own). Now his pride’s on the line, and Ford, who was threatening to shut down his factory in his introductory scene, is willing to spend whatever it takes to break Ferrari’s winning streak at Le Mans.
One doesn’t have to be a racing aficionado to know where this David-v-Goliath story is headed — except, in this equation, isn’t Ford playing both roles? The company is by far the behemoth in this equation, but is also granted underdog status because it’s never built a car that could best a Ferrari. The first two years were a bust (one in conveniently compressed movie time), and yet, thanks to Shelby and Miles’ efforts, the car manufacturer finally has something to show for it: the GT40 Mark I, which is fast enough to set speed records, even though it didn’t win the race.
The movie celebrates racing while poking fun at the childish compulsion to go faster, and is happy to admit these men are risking their lives because they’re essentially boys with toys. Toys that frequently blow up and kill the driver, but still. One scene sees Bale and Damon’s prickly friendship spill over into a hilarious schoolboy tussle, while the camaraderie and rivalry between drivers is summed up by Bale relentlessly heckling his opponents in a thick British accent — complete with endearing Britishisms like, “Learn to drive you pillock!” You may want to remember that one the next time you get behind the wheel.
But “Ford v Ferrari,” written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, pushes the connection further, suggesting subtle but unmistakable links between racing and filmmaking as aesthetic and economic propositions. Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, the car designer and driver played by Damon and Bale, are risk-hungry free spirits gambling with someone else’s money, unruly individualists who nonetheless depend on the good will of a large corporation.
Overall: “Ford v Ferrari” is no masterpiece, but it is — to invoke a currently simmering debate — real cinema, the kind of solid, satisfying, non-pandering movie that can seem endangered nowadays. To put it in the simplest terms: You may not think you care who won at Le Mans in 1966, but for two and a half hours, you will. Verdict : 3/5