REVIEW: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ is a return to classic underdog stories

“Ford v Ferrari” starring Matt Damon (left) and Christian Bale (right) tells the story of the 1966 sports car race at Le Mans marked by the rivalry between Ford Motors and Ferrari. (Photo from IMDb)

Movies have changed a lot in the past few decades. Studio films came to comprise mostly superhero action flicks instead of diverse stories that push the boundaries of filmmaking. While those were also once given bigger budgets, arthouse films today are mostly produced by indie film companies. But among the mainstream Hollywood films that have defined this decade with modern, flashy competition of superheroes and sci-fi fantasies, “Ford v Ferrari,” an old-school underdog that effectively tells a real-life story with artistic flair, emerges as a rare breed of film. 

Led by two powerhouse performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale, “Ford v Ferrari” retells the classic underdog story — a group of misfits fighting against all odds in a battle with the champions.  

Taking place months before the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race, “Ford v Ferrari” follows the bitter rivalry between its titular companies. While the Italian Ferrari automotive manufacturer has been leading the entire industry, Americans at Ford were aching to show their company’s true potential on the world stage. That’s when automotive designer and engineer Carroll Shelby (Damon) is hired by Ford to lead a team to defeat Ferrari at the next world championship, the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. With only a few months left to defeat the fastest car in the world, Shelby hires the hot-headed yet brilliant race driver Ken Miles (Bale) to pull off the feat. With the highest stakes of their lives, the two men must not only overcome their differences, but also their own internal struggles to have a chance at defeating Ferrari. 

“Ford v Ferrari” establishes itself as one of the strongest biopics in recent memory from its very concept. Sports biopics are not as common as they used to be, making this film even more welcomed and delightful. However, director James Mangold, who directed “Logan” and “Walk the Line,” deliberately never lets the racing details deviate from what’s really important in the film – the characters. 

Without a doubt, the greatest strength of the film is in the chemistry between the dual lead characters, performed masterfully by two of the best actors working today. Both Damon and Bale create an electric interplay with their colorful characters, making the film vastly entertaining. In fact, their own public personas match their respective characters, enhancing each performance. 

Damon’s eye for filmmaking mirrors Shelby’s ability to meticulously plan and strategize, while Bale’s eccentric methods fit perfectly with Miles’ arrogant, perfectionist person. Both of these characters work as great foils for each other: Shelby leads the plot forward, whereas Miles’ relationship with his son (played by rising star Noah Jupe) lends the film its emotional depth. 

From the opening sequence to the final shot, Mangold directs this film with an intent to both entertain the audience and make them emotional invested in the film’s stakes. 

In its technical presentation, the film does not falter in the slightest. The cinematography makes the film one of the most pleasing to watch in the year, even without doing anything too exceptional. When it comes to the racing scenes, Mangold creates some of the most exhilarating sequences of the year with amazing stunts, camerawork and effects. Meanwhile, the film’s editing creates a very engaging rhythm for the story to follow in the two and a half hour runtime. 

In an industry oversaturated with far-fetched blockbusters, it is refreshing to see a grounded story depicting real people overcoming the obstacles life throws at them. And even though the film’s classic optimism is a bit old-fashioned, it reinvigorates the modern cinematic landscape with a nostalgic perspective. “Ford v Ferrari” conveys a universal theme of perseverance that can resonate with anyone in any hardship, making it a relevant, uplifting story.