This article was written exclusively for The Film Magazine by Dan Mason.
The motorsport film is a tough brief to fulfil.
Motorsport in itself is harder to market in the modern world, potentially made increasingly less attractive with every report on environmental concerns.
Therefore, race fans such as this particular writer should celebrate, rather than pick at a motion picture that brings the sport back into the limelight.
Some past attempts make you cringe, others educate, but the most recent to hit the big screen: Ford v Ferrari, does the sport justice despite not having the security blanket of being a documentary.
It depicts a storyline that teaches others about a tale that had fallen out of many people’s minds. In this case, the story of one-time Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver-engineer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) takes the attention, the latter’s part in streamlining one of the greatest and much-loved race cars into a Le Mans 24 Hours winner being given the deserving focal point.
But how does it fare for the hardcore motorsport fans?
The Right Balance
Of course, you spot the clichés from many a motorsport film.
They pull alongside each other, mouth something vengeful, pull up into a mystery new gear they never had before and drive into the lead at the latest possible moment. A well-timed cutback pass? Unheard of, as is the case with late-braking lunges it seems.
It must be stressed, the latest addition is not a documentary, which opened up the chance for clumsiness – see the 2001 Indycar explosion-fest Driven as the prime horror show example.
It’s Rush over Senna, but with the added bonus of utilising an accurate representation of the Le Mans circuit of its time, rather than attempting to pass off Donington Park’s damp pit lane in Leicester as the Fuji finale in Japan.
You can’t escape it at times, however. Expect typically unsubtle dialogue, and the classic Hollywood gear-related overtake as Miles cranks the GT40 up to 7,000rpm down Mulsanne Straight, but looking past such gimmicks, marvel at the fact these on-track sections actually appear to feel realistic for the period.
Don’t Pick a Fight
The storyline (thankfully) doesn’t pick fights. Even Senna wafted the villain card firmly and somewhat unfairly towards Alain Prost, despite the clash of personalities going on at the time and their mutual respect for one another in their final years as rivals.
More so, despite the title itself, Ford and Ferrari play second fiddle to the real personalities.
Bale takes you straight onto the side of Miles from the outset with a family man, sarcasm-fronted performance of the Brummie known occasionally by American colleagues as “Sidebite” (he often talked out of the side of his mouth), while Shelby’s warmth is felt from Damon.
To non-racing followers, you would expect Ferrari to be tarred with the ‘billboard enemy’ brush; that quickly fades – along with the attempted injection of Italian arrogance – when you remember Enzo Ferrari’s true passion, a man that reportedly never flew to races and avoided media distractions in reality.
The Prancing Horse has its personal emotion. What Maranello had in passion, Henry Ford II’s (Tracey Letts) corporate outfit had in marketing techniques; Ford shamelessly flog the latest Mustang and consistently alienate themselves from the ambitious combination of Shelby and Miles.
The token villain role effectively falls on Leo Beebe (portrayed by Josh Lucas), apt considering the real outcome of the event back in ’66.
Beebe instigated the marketing-fuelled photo finish that produced the final lap farce of Miles losing out to Bruce McLaren by a handful of metres, due to his more distant starting position.
After many photo finishes at Le Mans since from Jaguar, Audi, Peugeot and more, you wince at the thought of this even being considered a rule…
Just as in Rush, the real icons are present, and utilised to their full knee-rubbing, nostalgia-inducing best.
Petrolhead or not, treat yourself to the IMAX experience and the vintage roar of big-block American V8s as your soundtrack, as well as the squeal of the refined Ferrari 330 PS that accompany some beautiful beasts of the period. Speed actually feels real in this case thanks to some editing trickery, and the key events are – although hammed up – well judged and will leave you tensed if you did not know the eventual outcomes.
Sights and sounds are enough for a motorsport fan to leave without severe complaints, but the storyline also keeps enough realism within its attempts to fit the Hollywood style.
Yes, it’s not all based on facts. Pedantic research says Shelby never locked Beebe in his office, and that Ferrari’s sale to Fiat happened two years after the ’66 race, but much can be accepted as realistic – relatively speaking. One addition that would have been welcomed; the quote believed to have been uttered from Miles after learning of his defeat was one that would have made for a delightful soundbite by Bale: “I think I’ve been fucked.”
It’s not perfect, but perfection can only be found in watching the real thing.
You leave with a warm sense that motorsport is – very cornily – winning in this case, when it could so easily have lost out. Non-motorsport fans have a real storyline told to them in the right manner thankfully, rather than Owen Wilson wall-riding at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Written by Dan Mason
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