REVIEW: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ has fine tuned performances, but is also formulaic

Ingenuity can be daring sometimes and often requires pushing boundaries. That’s what the main characters in “Ford v Ferrari” must do in this movie, and fortunately the film documenting their work is above average.

Matt Damon stars as Carrol Shelby here, a former race car driver who puts his expertise into designing cars. In an effort to boost sales and to prove Ford can compete with international vehicles, the company drafts him to create a car faster than a Ferrari.

In order to test the car and help point out the flaws, Shelby enlists the help of Ken Miles (Christian Bale), an elite driver who can race with the best of them. The process is made difficult, though, because of corporate interference.

When “Ford v Ferrari” gets into the high octane thrills of racing or focuses on the commitment the two lead characters have for innovation, it’s quite compelling. There’s an endearing factor in how the two protagonists are driven more by exploring the limits of technology rather than only earning money.

Unfortunately, the story structure bringing the characters along for the ride comes across as too generic and formulaic, with very few groundbreaking moments. Part of this comes from the corporate in-fighting that takes place between the two protagonists and the Ford company.

There’s no doubt that disagreements between the innovative side and company suits took place, but the black-and-white direction it takes comes across as shallow. The best example for this is Josh Lucas’ Leo Beebe character, a senior executive basically working directly under Henry Ford II. Beebe doesn’t just have creative differences with Shelby and Miles, he downright comes across as a villain here.

Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Twentieth Century Fox’s FORD V. FERRARI.
Courtesy Chernin Entertainment and 20th Century Fox.

The movie also comes in at a solid two and a half hours, and it doesn’t really earn that runtime. There are definite lulls in the picture where the film lacks urgency and energy.

Despite some issues attached to the movie from a story perspective, though, the rest of the movie has a lot of strengths. The two lead performances are the clear highlight, with both Damon, an Oscar nominee, and Christian Bale, an Academy Award winner, doing great work.

Damon easily gives his best performance since 2015’s “The Martian” as Shelby. At first glance the character might come across as a simple smooth talking car expert, but Damon’s performance gives the character more depth than that. It’s especially true in the film’s third act.

Miles is much more of a grounded character and isn’t as flashy as Shelby, and he’s very well portrayed by Bale. While not an apples to apples comparison, it’s not too different from the character Bale played in “The Big Short,” as both are more reserved compared to their counterparts. Bale does great work in this role, especially in scenes where Miles has to swallow his pride and put aside what he wants.

“Ford” also succeeds in the technical aspects, especially in the third act during the main race. How the race was shot and edited was absolutely incredible. The scope is well portrayed and the editing allows for viewers to keep track of how the race is developing and how many close calls there were. The sound work also deserves credit for creating an immersive experience.

The story structure holds “Ford” back from being great, but the lead performances and the strong filmmaking is enough to create a very good film. Director James Mangold and his crew deserve a fair share of praise for putting together a solid entry in the 2019 library. 3.85 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, and I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2009 graduate of Rainy River College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University in Moorhead. At MSU, I studied journalism and film. Outside of movies, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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