Sometimes, it’s not just the car or the driver, but also the pit crew which holds it all together.
The title of the movie says it all really, of the invulnerable Ferrari versus the automobile giant that is Ford. It’s not exactly a tale of David vs. Goliath as both car companies have their own strengths. This is ultimately a retelling of an American myth by an American movie studio. While stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale deserve much of the credit of leading this epic racing tale, equal credit should also go to the writers Jason Keller, and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, along with director, James Mangold.
As history records, this is a tale where Henry Ford II attempts to buy Ferrari, but gets snubbed and is on a mission to beat the noted Italian car behemoth, by winning Le Mans. The race is one of the, if not the, most celebrated car event in automotive history. In comes Carrol Shelby (Damon), a former race car driver turned engineer who is then tasked to build a car good enough to take on a Ferrari. A car is also only as good as its driver, and that’s where temperamental driver Ken Miles (Bale) enters the race.
Right from the start, the story is not about the vehicles because the writers and directors realise that the moment it focuses on the fancy fast cars, the majority of the audience will speed away just as quickly. Time is spent building up the life of Shelby and Miles, as individuals and as a team that had to be broken, before they could come together again. The story also focuses on Miles as a husband and father, and it would have been easy to tell that story to develop the heart of the story but Mangold deftly juggles the characters and narrative, so that the movie becomes more than what the title promotes.
The story beats are there, but Mangold mixes it with moments of racing action that help propel the action forward. Thankfully, these do not form the bulk of the film because as charismatic as Bale is, this is not some racing anime that focuses on skill to win the race. Interestingly enough, the most delightful race sequence has Shelby behind the wheel, as he makes a last ditch attempt to convince Ford II why Miles is the best driver to lead the company to victory.
As biopics go, the character moments are well orchestrated and at times, it’s easy to determine who the villains and heroes are. Aside from Shelby and Miles though, the remaining cast of characters are rather one-sided in their portrayal, from supportive Ford marketing executive Lee Lacocca (Jon Bernthal), smarmy Ford project leader Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) to Shelby’s right-hand man, Phil Remington (Ray McKinnon). As the only primary female lead, Miles’ wife, Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) is given plenty of screen time, but her portrayal is the most uneven, moving from supportive wife on minute, to a fearful irrational one, and then back to being fairly supportive again.
That said, there is also something lost in this retelling as it glosses over the technical achievements that Ford introduced, to win LeMans. Yes, there is a focus on the new brakes but towards the end, when Miles crosses the finishing line, one does wonder what Shelby’s contribution to this legacy is.
Damon is excellent as Shelby and both the leading men anchor their portrayal in such a way that audiences get to see their ego, excitement and pain in well fleshed out portrayals. Aside from racing and car enthusiasts, few would recognise their names if not for the car brands associated with this race, and both stars are the dynamic duo that make this movie more than just a racing film.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Bale, Damon and Mangold have made a racing movie that covers the key highlights, and made audiences care about the two champions who did the impossible.
Story - 8/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 9/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10