I am ashamed that I have let life get in the way of seeing movies in the theater over the last couple of years. I used to be the guy that saw everything on the big screen; from critically acclaimed dramas to big-budget action flicks to escapist horror. Lately, I have just not done a great job getting out to the theater, perhaps because the multiplex in my town is not my favorite due to both frequent presentation issues and rowdy audiences. If I can drive the hour to visit the Alamo Drafthouse for a screening I do, and that is where I saw most of the movies I did see in theaters in 2019. I tell you this because Ford v Ferrari is a film I absolutely wanted to support on the big screen. James Mangold is an excellent director, and his cast here, led by Matt Damon and Christian Bale, is superb. As a man who will always be fascinated by speed and cars, this biographical sports drama about Carroll Shelby is also enticing to me. Thankfully, my gig at DVDTalk assures I can catch up with some excellent films at home, and I was ultimately impressed with Ford v Ferrari.
The film opens in 1963, as Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) of the Ford Motor Company attempts to purchase Ferrari in order to become more competitive in races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in turn boost car sales. Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) balks at the deal, and ultimately partners with Fiat in a merger that allows Ferrari to retain total control over his racing division, Scuderia Ferrari. An angry Ford then hires Shelby American owner and automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) to help construct a car capable of beating the Ferrari team at Le Mans. Shelby was a successful driver, too, but had to retire due to a heart condition. He thus calls upon Ken Miles (Bale), a British racer with a fiery temper, to drive the prototypes. Those include the Ford GT40 Mk I, which Miles tests at Los Angeles International Airport, discovering its many design flaws include a faulty braking system. Ford is no fan of Miles, and refuses to let him drive at the 1965 Le Mans race, where none of the Ford cars finish the race. Shelby notes that Ferrari has taken notice, though, as the GT40 reached a top speed of 218 miles per hour. When Ford's Senior Vice President Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) takes over the racing division, he tries to completely oust Miles, but Shelby convinces Ford to let Miles drive Le Mans if he can win the race at Daytona, which he narrowly does.
Mangold crafts an entertaining drama for racing fans and casual viewers alike. Known for helming successful biographical dramas like Walk the Line, western 3:10 to Yuma and comic book epics The Wolverine and Logan, Mangold is one of my favorite modern directors. He also knows how to work with actors that occasionally overwhelm directors (Bale, Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix) and pull career-defining performances from them. This film is certainly not a complete biography of Shelby, as it instead focuses on this short period of his life. It does not touch on Shelby's other interactions with Ferrari, whom the driver actually beat at the 1959 Le Mans race in an Aston Martin. The film is as much about Miles as it is Shelby, and much of the film's heart comes from Miles' relationship with his wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe). Miles has for years struggled with unrealized dreams; his racing career has stalled, and his mechanic business is not successful. When Mollie becomes upset that he continues to race without telling her, Miles explains that he is simply tired of failing.
There is a fair amount of racing acting during the film's 152 minutes, and Mangold uses visual effects to place viewers amid the action and recreate the period authentically. One of the most interesting aspects of Ford v Ferrari is seeing how much corporate micromanaging Shelby had to endure to get his Ford GT40 built. While Henry Ford's ride with Shelby is likely a work of fiction, the film makes clear that Ford did not simply drop $25 million and the keys to the brand in Shelby's lap. Viewers are also reminded that the ultimate goal of his work, at least in his employer's eyes, was not to win Le Mans but to increase sales, as evidenced in Ford's request to Miles at one point to slow down and allow his teammates to catch up so the Ford cars would cross the finish line together. Along with these thrilling racing moments and the historical drama come excellent interactions between Miles and Shelby, and both Bale and Damon give excellent performances. The actors are an unlikely pair but share genuine chemistry, and there is a considerable amount of humorous interplay between the two characters. While the film's ending is bittersweet, Ford v Ferrari represents a triumphant sports achievement. Mangold's film is thoughtful, thrilling and wholly entertaining, and is one of 2019's better releases.
Fox is now under the Disney banner, and releases Ford v Ferrari with a stellar 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image. Fine-object detail is abundant and totally impressive; from facial features, to interior details in the race cars, to costumes. Wide shots are clear and sharp, with exceptional depth and clarity. Only slight softness appears, and that is usually when the film relies on visual effects to sell the period. Skin tones are accurate, highlights are kept in check, and blacks are inky. There are some gorgeous colors in this orange-and-teal-leaning presentation, particularly in the scene when Miles and his son drive at the airport at dusk. The image looks fantastic in motion, and I only noticed very minor digital noise and aliasing in a couple of spots.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is completely immersive and fires on all cylinders (see what I did there?)! The frequent racing action allows for incredible use of the surround speakers. Sound pans are frequent, and revving engines, squealing tires and crashes make complete use of the sound field. Ambient noise like weather, crowd chatter and announcers surround the viewer, and dialogue is totally clean and clear. There are no issues with element crowding, and dialogue, effects and score are balanced perfectly. The LFE comes alive frequently to support the action, and the musical selections are bold and nicely realized. French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release includes the Blu-ray and a digital copy code. The disc is packed in an eco-case that is wrapped in a holofoil slipcover. The disc includes an eight-part, making-of documentary, Bringing the Rivalry to Life (59:52/HD), which offers interviews from Mangold, Damon, Bale, set designers, camera operators, editors, effects artists and other crew members, alongside interesting behind-the-scenes footage. You also get the film's Theatrical Trailers (4:56/HD). That documentary is pretty interesting, if not necessarily exhaustive. In an annoying move, Disney has designated several additional features, including an extended interview with Damon and Bale and a look at recreating the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as digital exclusives. I loathe this practice, as it feels like a slap in the face to fans of physical media.
James Mangold's latest, Ford v Ferrari is an entertaining, thrilling and dramatically satisfying look at the rivalry of the Ford and Ferrari racing teams leading up to the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race. This is less an exhaustive biography of automotive designer Carroll Shelby than a look at his work in building the Ford GT40 to compete with Ferrari and his relationship with British driver and mechanic Ken Miles. The lead actors share great chemistry, and their interplay leads the film across the finish line. Highly Recommended.