Here’s a quick overview of the recently released Ford v. Ferrari: the ultimate guy movie. This intense, thrilling, and heartbreaking story of the greatest motor racing rivalry in history is probably the best racing movie of all time, full stop.
“Ultimate guy movie” shouldn’t be taken as a careless joke or a feminist complaint. It’s a simple fact that this movie is the untold true story of how some plucky American guys fought off Italian superstars and a corporate behemoth to kick motorsports ass across the seas. This movie celebrates a kind of hard-won, practical, self-owning masculinity, the kind that builds and races cars few ever thought possible. Women characters can be counted on one hand, but if you value a movie about men, machines, and the 1960’s by its modern diversity chops, you’re missing the point. The most important female character here is the wife of racing driver Ken Miles— and Irish actress Caitriona Balfe plays her with riveting skill, humor and humanity.
But the real story is Miles himself, British racing genius and World War 2 veteran. He’s played by Dark Knight star Christian Bale at the height of his powers. Obviously, Welsh-born Bale is relishing the chance to use his natural accent, and seamlessly moves between loving father at home and racing demon on the track. Miles knows the Ford racecar better than anyone else, but lashes out against Ford executives who can’t think outside the box. Without a deep bond to a man that knows the system, Ken has no chance. Thankfully for him, the other side of this movie’s central brotherhood is Matt Damon who plays engineer Carroll Shelby. If there’s a Shelby Cobra logo on your Mustang, it’s because of this Texan racing legend. Damon nails Shelby’s drawling voice and furious passion for racing. Together, these free thinkers must not only battle Ferrari’s racing dominance but against Ford Motor Company. The clean corporate image that Ford wants doesn’t square with the heavy metal and sheer guts needed to truly win, the kind of qualities only Miles and Shelby had.
The name of the game for our racers is the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. To the uninitiated, this entire enterprise would seem insane: Take a million dollar, 200- mile-an-hour racecar, and drive it on a French racetrack made out of public roads against a hundred other machines. Now, continue that for an entire day’s length. In motorsports, however, Le Mans is considered the ultimate test of man and machine, the true measure of whether you have the right stuff to win. Ferrari dominated the early 60’s editions of the classic race, until Ford stepped up to knock them off their throne, with Miles behind the wheel and Shelby leading the team.
Like any good car movie, the meat of the matter is the racing scenes, and man, does this movie deliver. The mid-60’s were a time when sex was safe and racing was dangerous, and the immense skill of racing drivers at the wheel of ludicrously powerful machines skirted the lines between life and death. Director James Mangold uses real cars to keep you on the edge of your seat, including the legendary Ford GT40 and its arch-nemesis, the Ferrari P4. The big Fords are loud, powerful, expensive, in every way American, battling against the sleek red Ferraris at speeds no sane man would usually attempt. At two hundred and eighteen miles per hour, there’s no room for error. The soundtrack fits both the period and the action, with classic rock blaring from the speakers while the movie’s V8 engines roar away.
I’ll leave the ending up to you to learn once you enjoy one of the best films of 2019. The film hits emotional notes you wouldn’t expect it to, and it dives into a deeper truth about competition. Sure, Bale and Damon are having tons of fun, but their characters fully know the joys of victory come with the danger of even one bad crash. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer, and see the power of ingenuity and the thrill of really winning.