Ford v Ferrari (titled Le Mans ’66 in the UK and other territories) is a 2019 American sports drama film directed by James Mangold and written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller. It stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale, with Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, and Ray McKinnon in supporting roles.
The plot follows an eccentric, determined team of American engineers and designers, led by automotive visionary Carroll Shelby and his British driver, Ken Miles, who are dispatched by Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca with the mission of building the Ford GT40, a new racing car with the potential to finally defeat the perennially dominant Ferrari racing team at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. In early stages of the film’s production, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were cast in the starring roles, but those plans fell through. Mangold was then hired in February 2018, and Damon, Bale, and the rest of the cast joined that summer. Filming began in July 2018 in California and lasted a little over two months.
Ford v Ferrari had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019, and was theatrically released in the United States on November 15 by 20th Century Fox. The film received positive reviews from critics, who lauded the performances and racing sequences.
In 1963, Ford Motor Company Vice President Lee Iacocca proposes to Henry Ford II to purchase the cash-strapped Ferrari as a means to boost their car sales by participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Enzo Ferrari, however, walks out of the deal, as Fiat offers him a more lucrative deal that allows him to retain his ownership of Scuderia Ferrari. A furious Henry II orders his racing division to build a car to defeat Ferrari at Le Mans. For this task, Iacocca hires Shelby American owner Carroll Shelby, a racing driver who won Le Mans in 1959, but was forced to retire due to his heart condition. In turn, Shelby enlists the help of Ken Miles, a hot-tempered British racer and struggling mechanic.
Shelby and Miles test the Ford GT40 Mk I prototype at Los Angeles International Airport, working out all of its design flaws until it is race ready. Seeing that Miles is not their ideal driver, Ford opts to send Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren to the 1964 Le Mans instead. As predicted by Miles, none of the Fords finish the race. While Henry II sees this as a humiliating defeat, Shelby explains to him that the GT40 instilled fear in Ferrari, as it reached 218 mph on the Mulsanne straight before it broke down. Shelby and Miles continue development on the GT40 Mk II, but Miles is nearly killed when the car’s brakes fail during testing. In 1966, Ford Senior Vice President Leo Beebe takes over the racing division, with the intent to continue the program without Miles, but Shelby gives Henry II a ride in the car and wages his own company on the line to convince him that if Miles wins the 24 Hours of Daytona, he will be allowed to race at Le Mans.
Shelby American enters Daytona, but Beebe has a second Ford entered with NASCAR team Holman-Moody supporting it. While the Holman-Moody team has quicker pit stops, Shelby has Miles push his car’s limit to 7,000 RPM, resulting in him winning the race.
At the 1966 Le Mans, Miles struggles with a faulty door during the first lap, but after team engineer Phil Remington fixes the door with a mallet, Miles begins to set lap records while catching up with the Ferraris. While racing with Ferrari driver Lorenzo Bandini, Miles experiences brake failure and has his brake system replaced during his pit stop. Enzo Ferrari protests the move, but Shelby convinces the race officials that the brake change is legal. Miles and Bandini once again duel on the Mulsanne Straight until Bandini blows his engine, completely eliminating Ferrari in the race. With three Ford teams in the top-three positions, Beebe orders Shelby to have Miles slow down for the other two Fords to catch up with him and provide the press with a three-car photo finish. Miles is initially against this decision, continuing to set new lap records near the end of the race, but decides to let Ford have their way on the final lap. Ultimately, McLaren is declared the winner on a technicality, but Miles is grateful to Shelby for giving him the opportunity to race at Le Mans.
Two months after Le Mans, while testing the J-car at Riverside International Raceway, Miles once again experiences brake failure and is killed in the resulting crash. Six months later, Shelby pays Miles’ widow Mollie and son Peter a visit and gives Peter a wrench that Miles threw at him before winning an SCCA race at Willow Springs in 1963. Ford would continue its winning streak at Le Mans in 1967, 1968, and 1969, becoming the only American manufacturer to win the prestigious race. Miles would be posthumously inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2001.
My Personal Thoughts
If it weren’t for Christian Bale, I probably would never watch a movie about car racing and the feud between car manufacturers. But early buzz about being an Oscar contender and the fact that James Mangold is the director enticed me a bit more and to my surprise, ‘Ford v Ferrari’ has quite the anti-corporation message that I wasn’t expecting from watching the trailer, and I very much appreciated it.
‘Ford v Ferrari’ is based on the true story of American racing star turned car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and race car driver and engineer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they are hired by Ford to build and design a race car to compete against Ferrari at the 24-hour Le Mans, a whole day race in France.
The film is first set up as a sports movie, with a coach-player dynamic between Shelby and Miles as they have to deal with their own personal demons — Shelby, who had to bow out from racing earlier than intended, while Miles has to deal with his inability to listen to authority — to win this race. But as the film continues to unfold, it also underlines how big corporations and their committees and bureaucracy get in the way of human accomplishment.
While the film manages to uplift Shelby and Miles by showcasing their decisions to overcome their own weaknesses, humanizing them and highlighting the strength of their character, the film also goes as far as to demonize the corporate system, putting out in full display the pride and arrogance of corporate types who feel the need to take charge and act like a boss because they are in suits when, in truth, they had no real hand in the building and testing of the machines that are at the forefront of their company.
There’s a lot in ‘Ford v Ferrari’ that feels like Oscar-bait. While Damon, Bale, Catriona Balfe (who plays Ken Miles’ wife Mollie), Jon Bernthal (who plays Ford executive Lee Iacocca), and Noah Jupe (who plays Ken Miles’ son Peter) all give amazing performances, each of their big moments feel like they are shot and covered just right for an award season clip. Bale really shines as Ken Miles, though, because it’s another transformative performance from him. His Ken Miles is buoyant and unpredictable, and it is a light and charming performance that we haven’t seen from him in a long time. It’s a genuinely light-hearted, comedic performance that doesn’t have his signature intensity, which creates a completely new character for him. It’s a shoe-in for a nomination, for sure.
Aside from the standard beats of a sports movie and the surprising narrative points that show the corporate interferences with what Shelby and Miles have set out to do, the film like any sports movie does its best to try and explain the challenges of the sport and raises the stakes that Miles has to overcome to win against the then-unbeatable Ferrari.
’m no racing fan but even I got engaged and invested in the race at some point. Mangold manages to infuse the sport with the human aspect, like any good sports movie, and we understand what is really at stake here. And more than just being another race, or a battle between car manufacturers for a title, the film also becomes a testament to human ingenuity and invention. The technology we all enjoy now are all products of great minds — scientists and engineers and, for cars, test drivers — and without having to say it, you could feel the pride the filmmaker has with what man is capable of doing when one pushes himself to the limit.
And, as the film shows us, what man can do not just for himself or for science, but for his fellow man.
Yes, there’s an Oscar-bait feel to the movie but great performances, strong direction, and touching upon the proper narrative beats for a sports film makes ‘Ford v Ferrari’ an enjoyable two and a half hour ride in the cinema.
|Directed by||James Mangold|
|Produced by||Peter Chernin Jenno Topping James Mangold|
|Written by||Jez Butterworth John-Henry Butterworth Jason Keller|
|Starring||Matt Damon Christian Bale|
|Music by||Marco Beltrami Buck Sanders|
|Edited by||Michael McCusker Andrew Buckland|
|Chernin Entertainment TSG Entertainment Turnpike Films|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release date||August 30, 2019 (Telluride) November 15, 2019 (United States)|
|Running time||152 minutes|
|Box office||$56.2 million|