The term ‘rivalry’ is a cutting, astringent, acid word that is pinned to hostility and vinegary negativity, but beneath its surface, rivalry paves the way for victory, success, and history to be made. As the ’66 Le Mans race approached, Ford rose up, hungry for triumph over long-time Italian auto adversary Ferrari.
While the ’60s waved goodbye to their waning years, Ford assembled a diligent team led by automotive pioneer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon,) and the hardworking American spirit of determination refused to waver. Under the hawking direction of Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal,) the pressure was on to take down Ferrari. Shelby and his crew of engineers created a car, the Ford GT40, that would beat Enzo Ferrari during the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The Le Mans race was the seventh round of the World Sportscar Champion season.
Damon brings on the can-do spirit and rejects the idea of being told “no.” His persistence is earnest and uplifting as he sets out to design the ultimate car. It takes his perseverance, untiring backbone, and a drive with Ford II (which leaves him in hysterics) around the track to prove himself, but in the interim, the underdog prevails. Rooting on the longshot is where Ford v. Ferrari finds its sweet spot. During the Le Mans, Ford II turns to Shelby to say “go ahead, Carroll, go to war.” It’s then that all faith is instilled into the dark horse who comes out on top, having Bale and Damon save the day. One important element of Shelby’s character is left in the dark: given glimpses of Damon rattling a bottle of pills are left unexplained, hinting that Shelby battles with some sort of psychological hurdles, still and all, the film frugally ignores sparing any details.
Legendary racecar driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) packs an attitude that’s difficult not to cheer on. He’s relentlessly sharp, unfiltered, and unapologetically stubborn. His bullheaded character and his unbudging notion set him in unyieldingly likable light. At one point, it’s said that “he’s difficult but good,” and that “if you wanna take first place, Ken Miles is the man to do it,” which are simple summaries of the motorist’s nature. Miles may have been a dogged driver, but Bale gave way to his softer side. His affection, may it be rare, slips through the cracks of his headstrong exterior. The relationship with son Peter Miles (Noah Jupe) and wife Mollie Miles (Caitriona Balfe) play tag with the more tender parts of Miles’ family dynamics.
The impending threat of Ford and his naysaying, suit-wearing executive followers brings about the predictability of the CEO antagonism and intercompany problems. Corporate doubt and the uneasy tensions between the two companies follow a formula much the same compared to other racing films, let it be Rush, Tallageda Nights, or even Cars. Bernthal isn’t the snarling Punisher that Netflix paints him to be, and his tamer side may be too mild to leave an impression as Iacocca. His intentionally pointed glances or purse-lipped expressions are passive enough to convey what isn’t said. The bitter aggressions between Ford and Ferrari echo the vagueness of a vehicular mafia.
In conjunction with being an entertaining piece of sports drama, Ford v. Ferrari can see itself in likeness to Moneyball, this time in the world of motorsports, when drawing the parallel of investing in the unlikely candidate while facing a cloud of doubt. It nears rounding the corner and racing to the finish on a light note, swelling up with the capacity to conclude on a high, but spins out and sputters on a sobered midway reach.
Verdict: 7.5/10 – Ford v. Ferrari is a people-pleaser, a hope-giver, and a dream chaser. Might you be an Indy 500 armchair enthusiast or put yourself behind the wheel, this joyride confronts corporate uncertainty once again and puts pessimism in its place.