Spoilers for James Mangold’s new racing movie starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon can definitely be found in this story. If you haven’t caught the flick yet, get your engine revving and get to the theater.
Ford v Ferrari blew past the competition at the box office this weekend. Its true-life story about the men behind the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race is the type of holiday story people love to eat up, thanks to its story and its action sequences, and it’s no surprise its already found a box office niche. However, what may surprise you about Ford v Ferrari is that much of it is actually a movie about bureaucracy rather than car racing. Director James Mangold has revealed it was by design.
In fact, he admitted in a recent interview that while Matt Damon’s character may work to get a few digs in at Ferrari during the famous Le Mans race, much of the movie is really about Damon’s Shelby Carroll and Christian Bale’s Ken Miles trying to gain the competitive advantage while a Ford bureaucracy slows them down time and time again. Per James Mangold:
I mean, [bureaucracy] was definitely a way in for me. I mean, to me, car racing is a background. Like, to me, Walk the Line isn’t a movie about country music. It’s a movie about falling in love and finding your balance. This is a movie about friendship and the kind of friendships we make when we do things with our hands, fight for things, build things. It’s a team effort: the guys in the pit, the engineers, the drivers, everything. So that’s what the movie’s about.
In the film, both Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles are tied up time and time again thanks to big business. There’s also a sneaky suit (played by Josh Lucas), who is out to undermine Shelby at every turn.
The two men also have to deal with the reality of competition from other Ford teams and business decisions outside of their control, which is why James Mangold admitted to Uproxx that a good portion of the movie could and maybe should be called 'Ford v Ford'.
And in that sense, you’re absolutely right. You’d probably be better off calling the movie Ford v Ford for two-thirds of it, because the reality is that the effort to get the car on the road, with the drivers and the team they want working on, it is a kind of battle that’s a very art versus commerce kind of battle that filmmakers certainly have, yeah.
He went on to explain that he has a little bit of both Matt Damon and Christian Bale’s characters inside of him, the “wheeler-dealer” that was Carroll Shelby and the uncompromising Ken Miles. It’s how he could make Ford v Ferrari empathetic to both points of view, and keeps the film from being boring, despite its big business themes.
If you know anything about the way the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race panned out, you’ll know even the final moments in the movie came down to Ford bureaucracy and not competition from Ferrari. There’s ultimately enough competition in the story thanks to Ford’s attempts to buy Ferrari down to Matt Damon sneakily nabbing Ferrari equipment to justify James Mangold’s preferred title, but at the end of the day, this is a movie about companies and about getting stuff done in the face of a large business that already has wheels in motion in other arenas.
It’s also a story about friendship and about what it takes to balance work and family and what it means to seek perfection. If any of those things seem striking to you, you can catch the film out in theaters now, or see what’s coming around Thanksgiving with our round-up of holiday movies.