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FILM REVIEW: Ford v Ferrari

FILM REVIEW: Ford v Ferrari

Sentinel Digital Desk

By Ambar Chatterjee

'Bale, Damon and the scintillating racing action makes Ford v Ferrari a must watch'

Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Tracy Letts, John Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, Josh Lucas

Director: James Mangold

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) won The Le Mans in 1959. Considered to be the mother of all endurance races, Le Mans was a 24-hour-long grind that not only tested the driver's skills but also the resolve to complete something that was close to impossible. Shelby wins the race but is told immediately by his doctor that he can never race again because of a heart condition. Unable to do what his life revolved around, He takes to designing cars and sets up an automobile company called Shelby Automobiles. He barely afloat through the next few years. Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is a gifted race car driver who understands the physics of the car better than anyone else. Sadly, he is a difficult person to contain with and is unpopular among team owners. He has a loving wife and a son who sees his father for the champion that he is but hasn't been recognized. Shelby and Miles share an organic camaraderie.

The year is 1964 and Ford Automobile sales are plummeting. Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is livid with the team and wants answers on how to revive the company. Lee Lacocca (John Bernthal), the vice-president of Ford convinces Ford II to buy Ferrari and compete in the Le Mans 1964. He believes that Ferrari has an iconic status among the young generation and buying it will help Ford find an audience and potential buyer base among the hip generation of the country. Ford II sends his team to buy Ferrari but Enzo Ferrari has other plans. He uses Ford's interest in his company as a means to get a better deal with Fiat who ultimately buys Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari, goes to the extent of verbally insulting Henry Ford II and this doesn't go down well with him. He is now hell bent on beating Ferrari at his own game and sends Lee Lacocca to get him the people who could make that possible.

Ford v Ferrari (titled Le Mans 66 in UK and other territories) is a fascinating watch from start to finish. I loved this film even more because I enjoy this kind of content. I like films where we start with a particular conflict and see people build their way up to a resolution to that conflict working their way through a pile of technical and scientific difficulties. It's a fixed format and one that has been tried a million times before but one has to agree that when well done this format can work wonders. In Ford v Ferrari's favor, it is an exciting underdog story for its primary protagonist Ken Miles. Here is a man brimming with potential but he has been an underachiever owing to his temper and certain other predicaments.

The bond that he shares with his wife and kid goes on to show how warm and soft a man he actually is. That just makes us think that the attitude that he carries to the world around him might be his response to how the world has treated him all this while. Christian Bale is able to bring out the humility of the man in such a beautiful manner that I as in awe of his act. He is fresh out of playing Dick Cheney in Vice and it is evident that the has once again rebuilt himself physically for playing Ken Miles. The mannerisms, the subtle facial expressions and the attitude that he brings to the character makes it abundantly clear that he has once again vanished behind the skin of a character that he is playing.

While Ken Miles is a firebrand who is not afraid of throwing tools at his boss, Matt Damon essays a version of Shelby that is calm, poised and is trying desperately to strike a balance between his passion for winning the Le Mans and the corporate hotch-potch that he finds himself dealing with. He desperately wants to remain associated with competitive racing and find some way to pay his bills and maintain his company. When Lee Lacocca approaches him with the offer to build the car for Ford, Shelby sees it as an opportunity to redeem himself and be in the thick of the action. However, as he dwells deeper and deeper into the project he finds himself cornered by the executive of the company to an extent that his relationship with Miles is threatened. The executives don't see Miles as a worthy face for Ford and Shelby knows in his heart that he is the right man behind the wheels. The conflict that develops out of this predicament is brought out beautifully by Damon in a thoroughly enjoyable act.

I just loved the give and takes between Damon and Bale and it forms the core of the film. It must be noted that the film is all buildup till the final race at Le Mans and hence the importance of their acts working in tandem with each other's was paramount. Had that not been the case, this film would have definitely dragged and that would also be because of the runtime of the film. However, the two leading men ensure that we are beguiled by their natural and affecting portrayal of two extraordinary individuals who successfully pulled off something unbelievable. In addition, I was entertained by the act of Tracy Letts who plays Henry Ford II with indelible charm. He keeps a firm hold on the mental state of the character and it is beautifully brought out in a couple of scenes. Every other supporting cast member does their bits with conviction and panache.

Ford v Ferrari is an extremely well shot and edited film. When you think of car racing, it isn't the most engrossing cinematic watch but we have to give credit to the Cinematographer (Phedon Papamichael) and the editors (Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker, Dirk Westervelt) for knowing exactly how to sustain our interest in these sequences and keeping them thrilling even through extended durations of nothing but laps after laps of cars crossing each other. The race sequences here will not only charm the fans of the sport but will also make an impact on anyone who is willing to invest some interest in it. That is one of the biggest pluses of the film in terms of its content.

There isn't much to complain about apart from some portions here and there where the narrative drags a little but that too is quickly taken care off. In a film that is so crammed up with information and plot points, we can easily forgive a little lapse in the speed and flow. For many it might just come as a welcome break from the breakneck speed that the film maintains all the way through. Powered by towering performances from Bale and Damon, Ford v Ferrari is a winner all the way. It has some of the best car racing action that I have seen in years and it must be added that these set pieces can only be enjoyed on the big screen. The film doesn't dumb down the content but instead gives the viewers enough information to follow the proceedings. It has an immersive story and ends with a bang. What more could we ask for?


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