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Ford v Ferrari

Christian Bale, Matt Damon shine in fabulous motorsport movie"

★★★★ - STUFF 

- Motor racing, like boxing, lends itself brilliantly to filmmaking.

The classic narrative of all adventure movies – start, lose, learn lesson, triumph in the end – is pretty much baked into the history of any racer or race manufacturer you could name. And, as with Ron Howard's very good Rush – on the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt that came to define the 1976 F1 season – Ford v Ferrari can succeed without needing to invent too many details or departing too far from the actual events.

Ferrari were the undisputed heavyweights of motor racing in the 1960s. From 1960 to 1965, Ferrari won every Le Mans 24 hour race. And they had managed to humiliate Ford a couple of times in doing so.

Earlier in the 1960s, Henry Ford Junior had been rebuffed when he tried to buy Ferrari for the American behemoth's portfolio of brands. And now Ford were out for revenge. They recruited legendary car builder Carroll Shelby and set about making a beast that could beat the Italians at their own game.

That Ford succeeded in 1966 is a matter of history. But the journey there was storied, tragic and stuffed with all manner of bloated egos and wildly ambitious men, all vying to be one of success' many fathers and desperate to be out of the firing line if they failed.

Shelby and his crew – here a little compressed into the figure of legendary British driver Ken Miles – were the band of misfits and wild-eyed petrol heads that Ford put their faith and dollars into. In this retelling, if Ford had just trusted Shelby to the hilt a little earlier, they may even have won Le Mans in '65. That might even be true.

Ford v Ferrari (I prefer the original title Le Mans '66) does a more than solid job of getting the story onto the screen. That two-and-a-half-hour running time might look like a stretch when you're booking the babysitter, but there truly is enough story here to fill it.

As Shelby, Matt Damon gives us a timely reminder, just in time for awards season, of how effective he can be in more nuanced and contemplative role than the ones that made him famous. Damon's Shelby is a morally conflicted good ol' boy, driven to win, but unwilling to throw life-long friends under the bus to do so. Even if that's what Mr Ford asks him to do.

But if they're going to be etching the silverware for anyone associated with Ford v Ferrari next year, then my money's on Christian Bale, handing in a veritable contortion of a man as the driven, brilliant and idiosyncratic Miles. Bale brings a whole quiver of twitches and gesticulations to the character, while walking and gesturing like he's been assembled out of new-born giraffes.  While the voice Bale finds for Miles sounds like nothing more than John Oliver with a head cold.

It's an astonishing piece of work – and probably just the thing to impress the Academy into a nomination at least.

Director James Mangold (Logan) handles the character and drama of Ford v Ferrari well enough and knows exactly when to get out of the way and let the cars do the talking. The final race, when it arrives, is as spectacular as any car race on film has been for many years. On the biggest screen you can find, with the volume turned up to concussive levels, Ford v Ferrari is a great ride and a gratifyingly respectful retelling of history.

Although, I'd be interested as hell to find out what really happened on the finish line between Miles and his Kiwi team mates Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon. I can only imagine there will be New Zealand motor-racing historians who might have a very different view of the events. 

- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF 

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