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Christian Bale shines in ‘Ford v Ferrari’

The film is an exciting new look into vintage car racing

<p>Actor Christian Bale, who plays driver Ken Miles in "Ford v Ferrari," represented the film at the Toronto Film Festival in September.&nbsp;</p>

Actor Christian Bale, who plays driver Ken Miles in "Ford v Ferrari," represented the film at the Toronto Film Festival in September. 

“Ford v Ferrari,” which hit theaters last Friday, is another addition to the many other great biopics about car racing — a sport exciting enough that screenwriters rarely have to add more narrative drama for audiences. The movie, which stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon, revolves around the 1966 Le Mans 24 hour race. Carroll Shelby (Damon), designer of the Shelby Cobra and winner of the 1959 Le Mans, enlists the pithy, quintessentially British driver Ken Miles (Bale) to join him in Ford’s ambitious goal of developing a car capable of beating Ferrari in the most difficult race in the world. 

The movie shines with its lead performances. Damon and Bale have great on-screen chemistry, with their banter and sporadic fighting playing into their quirky personalities. Bale, thinned out and thoughtfully styled, looks and behaves exactly like the real Ken Miles — he balances being difficult and admirable, a tricky combination in film. Bale gives his usual care and talent to the role, which shines throughout the rather long runtime — the film is well over two hours. Damon, while charming with a deep Southern accent, isn’t as memorable as Bale. 

Director James Mangold cultivates a film aesthetic that follows the beauty and intrigue of the cars themselves. Car buffs will enjoy seeing the beginnings of luxury dealership with the Shelby Cobra, Ford Mustang and GT as well as the Ferrari race chassises. 

With subjects as technical as car mechanics and race strategy, Mangold does an admirable job making the material tangible to viewers who have perhaps never watched a race. The best moments of the film are the racing sequences, where the viewer feels like they are driving 200 mph alongside the main characters. The excitement of racing is encapsulated in many heart-racing moments, like when Miles engages in a game of chicken with his opponents on slick roads. “Ford v Ferrari” balances this thrill with the cooler-than-cool personalities of Miles and Shelby. 

Alongside the main plot is an examination of the Ford company, a conglomerate run by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), who decides to develop a racing team to compete with the luxury car brands that were burgeoning in the mid-20th century. The homogenization of the assembly line expressed by the blue-suit-wearing Ford executives — think “Mad Men” style — plays to postwar America, where nuclear families were striving for the American Dream. However, as a particularly savvy Ford executive says in the movie, the 60’s also represented the first time in history that the youth of America had extra money in their pockets — and they were willing to spend that money on sleek cars that looked like the ones racing in Formula 1 or Le Mans. 

The movie praises Miles for racing for the thrill of the sport — not for the money or fame. This culminates in the bittersweet finale of the 24 hour race, where Miles, in the lead by more than a lap with just a couple minutes left, is ordered by Ford and an executive to slow down so that all three of the Ford cars can cross the finish line at the same time. Miles, widely criticized for being a selfish driver, reluctantly follows this order, slowing down and sacrificing his race record for the good of the Ford company. However, because of a technicality in the rulebook, Miles loses his first place finish to his teammate despite his historic performance. Miles later dies suddenly in a testing accident, never getting the opportunity to receive the accolades he deserved. The movie leaves the audience contemplating whether the whole venture was worth the trouble it caused. 

The only areas the movie could have done better with were more clearly representing time passing and giving more background to the characters. With stronger screenwriters, the movie could be the best racing film of all time. Despite this, “Ford v Ferrari” is still successful. Car racing, especially in the 20th century, is some of the most exciting and interesting subject material for film, and “Ford v Ferrari” masterfully combines dramatic politics, terrifying wrecks, exhilarating victories and beautiful cars.