As far as I’m concerned, Steve McQueen is the coolest cat to ever grace the silver screen. From his nonchalant demeanor to the way his presence just oozed charisma, McQueen was in control, always cool.
I thought about McQueen a bit while watching “Ford v Ferrari,” and not just because McQueen lent his cool to a number of racing pictures. I thought about Steve McQueen because “Ford v Ferrari” was the coolest movie I’ve seen in recent memory.
“Ford v Ferrari” focuses on sports cars designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and race driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they struggle to build a racecar for Ford that’s capable of beating Ferrari in The 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The two men must overcome the laws of physics, as well as plenty of corporate meddling from the higher-ups at Ford, and that’s before they even get into the race.
Once they get to the race, Shelby has to fend the Ford brass while Miles fights fatigue, other drivers and his car itself while racing at speeds that top two hundred miles per hour. The film is a peek behind the curtain at what it takes to design a high-performance automobile and get it on the track.
It’s also a very entertaining spin. Starting with a very solid script as a foundation, “Ford” gives a narrative that always feels like it’s moving, even during quiet dialogue scenes. The script does a good job of setting up the characters, the situation that drives the story and why that situation is important.
And while the characters might be a bit one-dimensional, the actors really make them interesting and a treat to watch through their performances. Bale and Damon are both stellar, playing their characters as different sides of the same coin. Shelby and Miles are two guys who are driven to reach their goal, sometimes to a fault.
The leads get some terrific support from the rest of the cast. Josh Lucas is especially good as Ford corporate slimeball Leo Beebe. Jon Bernthal leaves an impression as Lee Iacocca. Caitriona Balfe lends the film strength and tenderness as Miles’ Wife, Mollie. Tracy Letts scores one of the film’s best scenes, the one where his character, Henry Ford II, goes for a ride with Shelby.
Orchestrating all these elements is director James Mangold, whose previous work includes “Walk the Line” and “Logan,” the best “X-Men” movie of all time. Mangold understands how to put us in the car with Miles so we experience what he does. We feel the speed, the danger. You can almost feel your seat vibrate during the race sequences. But where Mangold really shines is in the scenes that help us get to know these characters. Because Mangold is so good at helping actors find the right performances, we feel like we understand Shelby and Miles and we care what happens to them. And that makes the movie even better.
The whole time “Ford v Ferrari” is giving us all this, it’s being completely cool doing it. Miles and Shelby both carry themselves with belligerent, nonconformist attitudes that make you wish you were that cool. The cars are sleek and radical in a way cars are seldom allowed to be anymore. Cool can be kind of hard to explain, but you know it when you see and. “Ford v Ferrari” splatters cool all over the screen.
5 Indy Fedoras out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13