Ford V Ferrari REVIEW – Thrilling But Bloated

Ford V Ferrari doesn’t break any new ground, but it gets over the finish line in a good position.

Ford v Ferrari
Ford v. Ferrari

While sports have a slightly chequered history in film, the delight of watching an underdog story remains undimmed. Ford v Ferrari tries to weave in the story of corporate banality tempering the dreams of creative visionaries. The personal drama centred on the characters has mixed success, and therefore limits the impact of the final film, but James Mangold’s film is engaging until the chequered flag.

Matt Damon and Christian Bale lead the cast as legendary car designer Carroll Shelby and race driver and engineer Ken Miles respectively. The Ford Motor Company, looking to reinvigorate its image, turn to Shelby in order to construct a race car which can win the world-famous and Ferrari-dominated 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Amidst corporate interference, Shelby – the only American to have won Le Mans at that stage – fights to retain control of his team and, in particular, the mercurial but abrasive Ken’s place behind the wheel.

The technical approach to the race scenes works very well, blending CGI, green screen and actual practical race filming to construct engaging and tense sequences. The camerawork is dynamic but realistic, creating a sense of weight and peril. These sequences certainly feel more thrilling than, for example, another motorsport drama in Ron Howard’s Rush and this technical work keeps the action grounded. As a result, the danger of race car driving is keenly felt and gives some emotional context to the resentment of the corporate shenanigans and interference from Ford executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas).

The human elements designed to bring some emotion and spark to the story have a more mixed success. Leo Beebe is little more than a stock besuited irritant. The character is entertaining as an oppositional foil to provoke Bale’s tempestuous Ken Miles but functions as little more than a plot device. Frequently, the film will reach false summits in the narrative, only for Beebe to pop up a new roadblock seemingly out of nowhere. The presence of Ferrari is an afterthought and does little besides set up Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) as a character who will then smirk knowingly as the Shelby team find new ways to undermine Leo Beebe.

The central duo, however, give amusing and slick performances. Bale seems to be enjoying himself in the role of Ken Miles, wittily chomping away at the pomposity of anyone in the film who happens to be wearing a tie. Damon does an excellent job conveying the strain of balancing his Ford overlords demands with the more pure ambitions he and Miles have.

It would be very easy for Ford v Ferrari to rest upon the underdog template, effectively creating a Rocky with race cars. The film is still very content to do that when it is convenient and as a result, the structure of the film is almost aggressively conventional. With that in mind, it is a shame the script doesn’t give more over to the motivations of the lead pair. Shelby’s health problems and the mistaken perception of having lost his nerve are shelved very quickly. The relationship between Ken Miles and his son is largely superficial, although Bale and young Noah Jupe imbue their interactions with some warmth and chemistry. Given the mildly subversive corporate self-sabotage element is largely free of Ferrari after a segment in Italy, it is a shame the film couldn’t have used the rest of the time more effectively to further scrutinise the central characters.

The film doesn’t break any new ground, but some thrilling driving sequences combined with likable lead performances makes it an entertaining watch, even with a slightly bloated runtime. As fast and slick as it is, Mangold’s film could certainly have managed more with a bit of a tune-up.

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Ford v Ferrari
There are well-executed racing thrills and effective central performances but the short shrift given to the inner lives of the characters means Ford v Ferrari cannot reach much further than that.