Ford v Ferrari (Le Mans ’66 in Europe) charts the fight between two automotive giants at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ahead of the film’s release, Sportscar365 attended a screening presented by Goodyear, one of the tire brands active in the famous 1966 edition. It included a display of classic and modern racing cars, including the legendary Ford GT40 which stars on-screen.
There are few greater tales in motor racing than the Sixties swing between Ford and Ferrari at Le Mans.
It’s an intriguing, highbrow story that has been covered extensively in books and documentaries but has been lacking a big-screen interpretation, until now.
James Mangold’s 2019 offering is a strictly American take on the origins of the Ford Le Mans program. It focuses on Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who were the lead architects on the project’s engineering side.
Bale plays a straight-talking, tea-drinking Miles whose unfiltered Brummie persona often falls foul of the Ford marketing board. Damon, meanwhile, portrays a fiercely driven Shelby whose way with words and cool exterior contrasts wildly with that of his “puppy dog” co-star. The two A-listers are, as a result, perfectly matched.
Elsewhere in the cast, Tracy Letts is fantastic as a patriarchal Henry Ford II. His distaste at Ferrari’s rejection of the Ford buyout offer and subsequent rallies for war are impressive moments that maintain the movie’s drive.
Ford II is supported by his closest executive advisors Lee Iacocca (played by John Bernthal) and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) who ooze power throughout and provide resistance to the immensely gifted Miles’ lack of corporate refinement.
The all-important action scenes are plentiful and infectious, especially when we get down to Le Mans itself.
Ford v Ferrari is packed full of thrilling sequences that adequately convey the strain and majesty of the 24 Hours and other races of this particular era.
The Ford GT40’s low-strung profile is worshipped in gorgeous knee-high tracking shots, while the bright colors of modern cinema help to realize the ’60s-era Circuit de la Sarthe in a beautiful way.
Motorsport fans will, however, need to accept some deviances from reality for the cause of the show.
For instance, Miles and Lorenzo Bandini eyeballing each other before the Ferrari driver’s engine seizes on the Mulsanne is all a bit too obvious and verges on being comical.
Away from the track, there are some clear anachronisms including a scene where Miles is left at home while his team jets off to compete in Le Mans ’65, when in reality the Englishman did actually drive a Ford GT40 with Bruce McLaren that year.
Nonetheless, Ford v Ferrari is intended as a dramatization of historical fact and these twinges in the real-life plot do help to support a slick story and strengthen the Miles/Shelby relationship. Essentially, it makes for a better movie.
Those with a keen eye for detail will, however, enjoy the little Easter egg references to other racing superstars. Casting Alex Gurney as his late father Dan for an all-American SCCA race at Willow Springs is a particularly charming touch.
What’s important to know is that Ford v Ferrari won’t give you a ’60s version of the raw Le Mans footage that Steve McQueen put together for his 1971 cult classic.
On this occasion, the characters are the stars of the show.
However, Mangold’s motion picture has done enough to earn itself a place at the high table of motor racing dramas for its capture of endurance racing’s sheer intensity, both on and off the track.
Most importantly, it’ll make you wish that you were there, witnessing it all for real.