Oscar Winner 2020: Ford v. Ferrari

Ford v. Ferrari / Le Mans ’66
Dir: James Mangold

Beyond watching ‘Top Gear’ purely for the shenanigans I’m not a follower of motorsport or the motoring world. What I do enjoy, however, is a compelling underdog story, especially if I can add to that the thrill of racing and the throaty roar of finely-tuned engines on my home cinema system. That makes for a pretty tempting prospect, so how could I resist this high-octane motor-racing movie?

In the 1960’s Ford Motors look to get into international racing, spurred on by a rivalry with the seemingly unbeatable Ferrari, hiring Carol Shelby (Matt Damon) to lead the venture and beat their rivals, with a spirited mechanic and talented driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) riding shotgun.

The title was different in certain territories, clearly to facilitate promotion with the recognizable brands of Ferrari and Ford that give a good indication of what the film is about, more than the potentially niche ‘Le Mans’ race, or the ’66 dating it. I got the idea either way, and once you saw who was in the film and maybe watched the trailer it wouldn’t really matter what it’s called, there are great actors, fast cars, exciting action, and very skilful direction. 

The rivalry between those two figureheads and their companies is the motivation, though it’s more personal than two car manufacturers wanting to beat each other, especially for those working hard for Ford. This wasn’t a story I really knew and I resisted looking up the characters on Wikipedia so I wouldn’t spoil it for myself, though I knew one key point in the story as I’d been unable to avoid hearing it alluded to in an interview in a way that wasn’t ambiguous enough. 

As I hoped, the racing scenes are beautifully filmed and edited, providing the required rush to make those parts suitably exciting. However, it’s not just a sporting movie, more important things happen off the track than on it, and the corporate interests and vehicle development are more integral to the full story than just how they perform on race day.

Personal drama is focused on far more than mechanical drama, which is touched on but kept to a few brief, not particularly detailed scenes. If you’re fascinated by the R&D of performance cars, this isn’t going to scratch that itch very well. The few moments of engineering brilliance show are more to bolster the idea that Shelby and Miles are geniuses and serve the purpose of telling their story, than that of the automotive advancements they contributed towards. Matt Damon and Christian Bale headline in those key roles. Though the title of the film shows there’s a competitive conflict, these lead characters aren’t the ones competing with each other, it’s great to see a film that takes collaboration as the focus ahead of the rivalry they’re working together to defeat.

Other than the main pairing, Noah Jupe has a significant supporting role through this film as Ken Miles’ son Peter. I said a few years ago when reviewing ‘Wonder‘ that Noah Jupe was one to watch out for and the more I see him in the more I’m convinced I was right. Here he’s alongside Oscar winners and seasoned actors with some of their most dynamic performances, yet he’s able to hold pivotal scenes together when taking a central role in them. I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility that he could start getting major awards recognition for his work very soon and bigger, leading roles, can’t be far off.

This was one of the finished films that Disney acquired from Fox in their purchase, and it was one of the few hotly tipped to be an awards contender. It ended up getting a handful of Academy Award nominations, in categories including both sound-related ones, and achieving wins in both film editing and sound editing which makes sense, the film sounds superb and the editing, especially considering the changes in pace is effective throughout. I’m a little surprised that although it did make the ‘Best Picture’ list, it didn’t have a wider spread of nominations, but it’s a film that’s going to have ongoing appeal, not just to fans of motorsport, but anyone who enjoys this kind of ‘underdog’ story or some brilliantly-acted drama. 

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