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Rooting for underdog in 'Ford v Ferrari'

Wening Gitomartoyo
Wening Gitomartoyo

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, November 17, 2019  /  11:08 am

Both names in the movie title are familiar to those who don’t even follow automobile or racing events. They’re well-known all over the world and each speaks of distinct characteristics.

But few might have heard of the true story that inspired Ford v Ferrari, when American automaker Ford Motor Company went into battle with the Italian Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

At the time, Ferrari had been the race winner for six consecutive years. Emboldened by its failure to purchase the troubled Italian company, Ford decided to show that its mass-produced all-American cars were as good as the classy and prestigious Ferrari.

Retired legendary racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is hired to develop this crucial car and he turns to Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a rowdy, temperamental Brit who is excellent both behind the wheel and under the hood. Their friendship, rocky in the beginning but growing in strength as the two learn to trust each other, is tested with demands from Ford and their relentless efforts to create the perfect racing car.

Read also: 'Ford v Ferrari' actors say race car drivers a special breed

Director James Mangold, who wrote the screenplay with Jason Keller, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, presents a rather formulaic movie of an underdog fighting to show its worth. But it is also an exhilarating trip to watch the meticulous mechanical work of creating the car, along with the jolts and sounds of metal, machines and rubber forced to work to the extreme.

Damon gave a superb performance as one who’s put in the middle of everything, a negotiator between the difficult Miles and the men in suits. Bale, even more so, embraced the rowdy and rough manners of Miles, his body curved and his grimace sinister. When he’s behind the wheel and steps on the gas pedal, we can’t help but side with him in that cramped, convulsing cockpit. The ever-brilliant Tracy Letts showed grit and ambition through his eyes as Henry Ford II, the man who's behind it all.

The two-and-a-half-hour-long movie can sometimes feel like it could use a trim. There is also the notion that some things are missing, such as why we rarely see Shelby outside the workshop or the circuits. Aside from admiring the well-made looks of cars, garages, racetracks and the inimitable spirit and ambition of finishing a 24-hour race, the movie may leave some viewers wondering.

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