James Mangold is a director who has carved out a niche of really good, classical Hollywood-type movies. He started out in the independent film world in the 90s, most notably with Copland, and has worked his way up to becoming one of this decade’s most powerful directors. His previous film to this, Logan, was a huge smash hit. He’s made Oscar-winners like Walk the Line, he’s done thrillers and westerns, and is just a rock-solid director despite not being amazing.
Ford v. Ferrari was a project that he was approached with almost a decade ago, keeping after it. After the success of Logan and the cancellation of his planned Patty Hearst movie, presumably he was in a position to make whatever he wanted. He was able to get it on film relatively quickly, and it’s one of those sports films that people who don’t care much about sports have definitely liked. The film has been retitled Le Mans ’66 in some territories including the UK.
Ferrari has been winning Le Mans over and over, leaving them in the dust, and Ford’s effort to buy Ferrari has not gone well. They hire a former race-car driver who is now a car designer, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who had won the ’59 Le Mans race, one of the very first Americans to do so. Shelby wants the Brummie driver behind the wheel, Ken Miles (Christian Bale), who is a little eccentric and definitely not who the Ford Motor Company had in mind for their brand. From there it’s about them trying to build a Ford GT40 that can win. They go through different versions of it until they finalise on one that can compete, and they then have to navigate some bureaucracy to get the driver approved.
The performances are really good. Bale is a bit over-rated in his part, as his accent is a bit all over the place. Playwright/actor Tracy Letts plays Henry Ford II and definitely brings out this guy who is very much in the shadow of his father, and has a ‘my way or the highway’ temper. Josh Lucas appears as the slimeball Ford vice-president.
It’s a well-made, workmanlike, mainstream blockbuster drama, with really excellent recreations of mid-60s L.A. and France. It has a bit more CGI than Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, mainly for the crowd scenes. The racing scenes are great, mostly in-camera with some CGI enhancement. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael started out doing films for Roger Corman, showing that it’s still the best film school anyone can get into—now he’s an Oscar nominee. Papamichael’s two main collaborators over the years have been Mangold and Alexander Payne; he also shot the cult oddity tv mini-series Wild Palms.
If you’re into racing, you’ll love the film, but even if you aren’t, it’s a solid and enjoyable watch. Ford v Ferrari also has a great soundtrack, including the Kingsmen, the Sonics, the Sparkles, Link Wray, The Byrds the Shadows of Knight and even Les Baxter—pretty awesome, as is the score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.
There’s only one extra, an hour-long documentary about the movie, plus the trailer.