Friday, 15 November 2019

Ford v Ferrari ★★★☆☆

Well, here we go. We are getting to that time of year, folks. Awards season draws ever nearer, which brings with it an endless parade of period dramas in an attempt to win the big trophies – only to be totally forgotten in the weeks that follow. Le Mans ’66, or Ford v Ferrari in the US, is one of those films. Prepare yourself for an explosive, action-packed motorsports film that, despite being superbly made and filled with great performances, will probably only pick up a couple of sound awards before disappearing into the endless ether of awards bait cinema.

American automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and fearless British race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary vehicle for the Ford Motor Co. Together, they plan to compete against the race cars of Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966. Le Mans ‘66 just feels like glorified Oscar bait through-and-through; it is a character-driven period piece about overcoming obstacles to achieve greatness against all odds. With such a premise comes a painfully formulaic delivery and very little dramatic tension, regardless of whether you know the outcome of that fateful race or not.

Directed by Logan’s James Mangold, the film truly comes alive in the racing scenes – unsurprisingly. Having previously collaborated with the director on Mangold’s Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael captures the excitement of the race in a way that feels intense and exciting, especially on the big screen. But despite the film’s title and marketing, the races actually make up a very small amount of screen-time in this otherwise very human drama. 

Thankfully, the performances here are good enough to keep the film afloat as a character study – while Matt Damon is mostly hiding behind sunglasses and beneath a cowboy hat and basically just being Matt Damon, Christian Bale is as phenomenal as ever as the gruff and volatile driver Ken, who has the best plotline off the track too with his family relationships contributing to the film’s drama.

But on the whole, this is a film that will struggle to find a passionate audience outside of the motorsports community. While yes, a good film should transcend its subject and appeal to cinema-goers as a whole, Le Mans ’66 is so invested in its historical premise of the great battle between Ford and Ferrari that it’s difficult to care too much or get particularly invested in the war if you’re not a petrolhead. Personally, I’ve never cared for cars and watching two hours of men discuss cars is not really my cup of tea – I can’t stand Top Gear for the same reason. But if you’re into the driving scene, you’ll probably find a lot to love.

Le Mans ’66 isn’t destined for greatness like its subjects, in fact, this time next year you’ll probably be able to pick it up for a couple of quid. Much like Damian Chazelle’s First Man, it is a passionately made and historically accurate character study built around a historic moment – but much like the Neil Armstrong biopic, it will fail to make much of an impact on the awards circuit before fading into obscurity. Still, it’s an engrossing enough distraction if you’ve nothing else to do.

Sam Love

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