Welcome to Sport on the Silver Screen. In this series, I will be looking back over sports movies that I have recently watched/re-watched and giving my thoughts on them. Getting into the Schmoedown and starting to follow a number of the personalities from the show has given me a much greater appreciation of movies and seen me starting to watch more.
Being a fan of both movies and sports, I have taken the chance to start highlighting the sheer volume of sports movies out there. For each movie I will be giving some details about the movie and then a quick review, including a section giving a sports fan’s perspective of the action’s realism.
This series has been heavily influenced by Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai of Action Industries, and as such I will be borrowing a couple of sections that they used in their old show Action Movie Anatomy: Fist-pump moment and favourite line. Be aware, there will be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.
Today I will be looking at a more recent movie: Ford v Ferrari
Directed by James Mangold
Music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
Released in 2019
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, Caitriona Balfe
Synopsis: Henry Ford II tasks former racing driver Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his team, including racing engineer and driver Ken Miles (Bale), with creating a Ford racing car capable of ending Ferrari’s dominance at the annual 25 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.
I remember when this movie was first coming out hearing rave reviews from people who saw it, but had no time to go see it in cinemas. Luckily, getting access to my friend’s Sky Go for a week to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League gave me a chance to catch up on a couple of other films that I’d missed, so this was top of the list. Safe to say that it didn’t disappoint!
I was a massive fan of Mangold’s Logan and the way it made a superhero movie feel so grounded and real. Well Mangold did it again, and though that should be obvious from the fact that it is a biographical sports drama, he – and everyone involved – did a fantastic job of making me feel like I was actually watching something from the 60s in how realistic it all looked. He also did a fantastic job of keeping the film grounded and full of heart rather than just action, by regularly coming back to scenes between Ken Miles and his wife or son. Much like Warrior, it is these moments of heart that can so easily be left out of a sports movie, but in fact take the film to another much more emotional level as we get even more invested in the character by seeing their family life and how that is being impacted. Most notable for me was a pair of scenes between Bale and Noah Jupe (playing Miles’ son, Peter), one talking about being kind to the car and feeling it, and another following a map Peter has made of the Le Mans circuit and using it to talk through the perfect lap.
Of course, these scenes add great feeling, but it is only possible due to the quality of acting, which is top class across the board. Jupe is brilliant for a young actor, while Matt Damon puts in another strong performance as Shelby, with moments of weakness, but also moments where he is fully in control and in his element. Josh Lucas is incredible as Leo Beebe, playing a perfect sh*tweasel character as the main antagonist in a personal sense (Ferrari racers obviously being the overall antagonists). But the best performance by a mile is Christian Bale as Ken Miles. We get moments of elation, anger, joy, sadness and focus from Bale, and he is deep in this role, such that I never for a moment felt that there was any overlap between this performance and any of his other roles that I had seen. having seen this, I’m shocked that he missed out on a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars.
Would I recommend it? Definitely! This is not just an out-and-out sports movie, but a drama with heart and humour, while the idea of racing is easy enough for people to understand even if they do not know the details of the sport. If you have seen Rush and enjoyed it, then this is definitely worth finding a couple of hours to watch.
So I’ll keep this short and sweet as I’ll be completely honest and admit that motor racing is not my forté, and that if I am usually watching the sport, then it will be Formula 1, rather than endurance racing. Add to that the way that motor racing has changed so much from the 60s to now, and this is certainly something outside of my wider knowledge.
Obviously the big point here is that the narrative focuses mainly on the one Ford that Miles is driving and just a handful of Ferraris, when in actuality there were much larger numbers in the race. We also keep the focus mainly on Miles in the car, when these endurance races have teams of 2 drivers due to their length – we do see shots making this clear, but the action itself sticks to when Miles is in the car. (MAJOR SPOILER WARNING) As a result, the finale of the race is framed somewhat as a defeat as Miles is cheated out of first place, whereas in the wider scope of things it was still a win for Ford.
I also feel that some of Shelby’s shenanigans with the neighbouring Ferrari pit crew were tough to believe actually happened, but they added some fun moments to the race, while also adding tot he feeling of Shelby and co. having to overcome a more experienced and prepared opposition.
Though I have gone with the title of Ford v Ferrari, as this is what I most commonly heard it called due to listening to shows and podcasts by Americans – such as the Schmoedown Entertainment Network and Action Industries – the movie was actually titled Le Mans ’66 in the UK and some other European countries. Personally, I think that the Ford v Ferrari title is better and more fitting as though Le Mans 66 was the climax of the film and the end of Ferrari’s dominance, the film does in fact cover a couple of years and at the heart of it is about the work that Shelby, Miles and co. put in to create a car that could beat Ferrari and went on to do so for a number of years.
The finale of the race at Daytona gets my vote here. With Miles (unknowingly) needing to win the race in order to get a spot for Le Mans, Beebe has supplied his rival with a far superior pit crew to give them an advantage over him, whilst also giving both cars the order not to push the cars over 6,000 RPM, which would give Miles an advantage due to how closely he had been involved in the design of the car. Seeing Miles will fall just short, Shelby walks out to the side of the track and shows Miles a sign: 7000+ GO LIKE HELL. With this instruction, Miles opens up and goes on a tear to take the lead on the final lap and win the race.
This scene has everything, fantastic racing action, Shelby’s trust in Miles and willingness to stick the proverbial middle finger up at Beebe, who has no way of stopping him, and a grandstand finish with Miles getting the crucial win against the odds.
There were a few that I considered here, including a speech by Shelby about 7,000 RMP which is said at the start of the movie and repeated again towards the end, while “This is about the place where the uninitiated soil themselves” was a humorous moment, but I instead found myself picking this moment from Henry Ford II after the failure of Le Mans ’65 as Shelby convinces him that he needs control of the team rather than being overruled by suits like Beebe.
“This isn’t the first time Ford Motors has gone to war in Europe. We know how to do more than push paper. And there is one man running this company. You report to him. You understand me? Go ahead, Carroll, go to war.”
At a time where many of the male characters would have served during WWII, its a completely understandable sentiment in such a big rivalry between Ford and Ferrari for Henry Ford to liken Le Mans to a battlefield, while we often see in war movies how incapable officers cause the problems, much like Beebe and the other suits are for Shelby.
What did you think of this movie? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!