Review: Ford V Ferrari

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Previously reviewed at TIFF 2019. 

PLOT: The year is 1966 and Ford sales are in the toilet. Company VP Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) launches a plan to buy Ferrari, only to be double-crossed at the last minute, leading to permanent bad blood between the auto giants, and Ford’s obsession with building a race car that can outperform a Ferrari. The battleground? The 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Enter Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the only American to win Le Mans, who enlists British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to help him develop and race the car that’s gonna clean Ferrari’s clock.

REVIEW:  FORD V FERRARI is an old fashioned star vehicle/ two-hander for Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Arguably the most purely entertaining film either has done in years, this lavish, character-driven tentpole should quickly become a favorite of racing fans, although a love of the sport certainly isn’t a prerequisite for maximum enjoyment here.

Directed by James Mangold, FORD V FERRARI is reminiscent of racing classics like John Frankenheimer’s GRAND PRIX, and the kind of film that would have likely been a roadshow epic in the sixties shot on 70MM with an all-star cast. Nowadays, it’s more of a gamble, but Mangold has made a beautiful looking epic. Damon plays to his natural decency as the straight-shooting Caroll Shelby, who’s been sidelined from racing due to a heart condition. Christian Bale gets the lion’s share of the time behind the wheel as the unpredictable Ken Miles, a British racer struggling to raise his family while maintaining a racing career that never took off. It’s a refreshing role for Bale, for once not using something like weight gain or prosthetics in a straight forward star part. Here, he reminds you of what made him a movie star in the first place. Miles is a wild card, and Bale brings his natural, live wire intensity to the part, making him a stubborn hero, but ultimately one you root for due to the way he’s depicted with his family, including his wife, played by "Outlander"’s Caitríona Balfe, and son, played by A QUIET PLACE’s Noah Jupe, who previously co-starred with Damon in SUBURBICON.

Much of the film is centered around the team building the race car they’ll need for Le Mans, with the grueling race itself confined to the last act, a far cry from the last film to tackle the race, Steve McQueen’s LE MANS, which emphasized racing over human drama. This does the opposite, and as a result, is a more accessible film to a mainstream audience. This seems to be the year stars make a comeback to a degree, with ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD proving the right star-driven vehicle can succeed outside the action genre, and hopefully this will perform at a high enough level to keep getting movies like this made.

Ford Ferrari Christian Bale

The supporting cast is solid, with Tracy Letts (also the playwright who wrote KILLER JOE), stealing scenes as Henry Ford II, with Damon taking him for a memorable ride around the track at one point – the result being much blubbering in one of the film’s big laughs. Jon Bernthal as Iacocca is also convincing in an against-type part as a smooth businessman, while Josh Lucas is the de facto villain as Ford’s unscrupulous PR head, who doesn’t think Miles is a company man.

The heart and soul of the film though are Miles’s relationships with both Shelby and his family, and Mangold and his team or writers deserve credit for beefing up Balfe’s role. That said, it’s the chemistry between Damon and Bale that carries the day, with them as inspired a star teaming as any classic buddy duo. The lensing by Phedon Papamichael, who shot many of Mangold’s films, is lavish, while Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders contribute a propulsive score. Notably, the buzz is that no CGI was used for the race scenes, giving the spectacle an old school charge where you really feel like what they’re doing is dangerous, with death a real possibility any time a character gets behind the wheel, something that distinguishes it even from the recent (excellent) RUSH.

Overall, FORD V FERRARI isn’t necessarily cutting edge, but it’s a good, solid and slick potential blockbuster driven by human drama, something rare these days. Hopefully, it’ll be one people come out and support. It’s high level entertainment and good fun for one and all.

Ford V Ferarri



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.