The cars of the early 1960s were sexy beasts. Sleek and metallic on the outside, perfumed with the sweet smell of fine Corinthian leather on the inside, they tore along the highways and byways like, to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, like big old dinosaurs. The action in “Ford v Ferrari,” however, begins in 1963 with the least sexy things ever, a failed corporate takeover.
Suffering a slump in sales the Ford Motor Company tries unsuccessfully to take over the infinitely more seductive Ferrari. The Italian car company, on a winning streak with at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, replies in no uncertain terms. “Ford makes ugly little cars in ugly factories,” says Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone).
That’s a no.
Insulted, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) flip-flops an old maxim. If he can’t join ‘em, he can beat ‘em. “This isn’t the first time Ford Motors’ gone to war,” he says. “We know how to do more than push papers. When early attempts to create a race car to take the wind out of Ferrari’s sails fails Ford marketing executive Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) brings in car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to make a Ford that will rule at La Mans. “My name is Carroll Shelby and performance is my business.” A former racer—he won the Le Mans in 1959 with partner Roy Salvadori—heart problems forced him off the track.
Shelby asks hot-headed British racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to help. “How long did you tell them that you needed?” he asks. “Two, three hundred years?” Together they work to make a sports car that will appeal to young consumers and “go like hell.”
Some basic knowledge of how cars work may enhance your enjoyment of “Ford v Ferrari” but the resonate part of the story has nothing to do with horsepower or Gurney flaps. At its fuel Injected heart the James Mangold-directed movie is a Davey and Goliath story about friendship and burning rubber.
The bromance angle comes in the bond between Shelby and Miles. The two men are like brothers who fight and love in almost equal measure. Damon and Bale share an easy camaraderie, fuelled by their character’s love of the art of racing and the desire to stick it to the big guys, the Ford Motor Company. Shelby is the diplomat, Miles the one more likely to punch a Ford executive, but both are underdogs who take pleasure in making the suits squirm.
“Ford v Ferrari” is formulaic in laying out the story. It’s a longshot tale with revving engines and many predictable twists and turns but Mangold injects some real excitement in the extended racing scenes.