Modern bromance fuels classic Le Mans in “Ford v Ferrari”
Updated: Feb 14, 2021
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) Weekend racing warrior Ken Miles (Christian Bale) drives the open-cockpit Shelby Cobra at the Willow Springs International Motorsports Park. (2) A heart condition keeps Texan car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) from racing after he won the 1959 24-hour of Le Mans. (3) Peter Miles (Noah Jupe) cheers for his father during the Willow Spring race.
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“FORD v FERRARI”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019, PG-13 for some profanity and peril; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Bringing the Rivalry to Life”
ACTOR Steve McQueen (“Le Mans”) and director John Frankenheimer (“Grand Prix”) – both motorsport fanatics who made groundbreaking racing movies during the 1960s and ‘70s – would stand up and cheer for director James Mangold’s (“Walk the Line,” “Logan”) “Ford v Ferrari.” And, so will you.
At two hours and thirty-plus minutes the character-driven drama with old Hollywood charm received four Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture. It won technical achievement Oscars for Film Editing and Sound Editing. The real-life story follows Texan car designer Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, and his courageous English-born driver Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale. Shelby and Ford Motor Company join forces to try to dethrone an overconfident Italian Ferrari racing team at the Le Mans 24-hour racing marathon. At the time, Shelby was the only American to have won the Le Mans in 1959.
(1&2) Carroll Shelby racing during the 1959 24-hours of Le Mans in France. (3) Shelby reflects on his future after the doctor tells him his racing days are done. (4) A customer wants Miles to refund his money for a tune-up he got for his MG sports car. Miles tells him to drive the car faster above 5,000 RPMs and "stop driving like a school teacher."
Christian Bale is perfect playing Ken Miles, a World War II tank engineer, who became a strong-minded sports car mechanic and weekend racing warrior based in Los Angeles. Miles is a hero to his son Peter played by Noah Jupe. “One of the revelations is we get to see so much of Bale: A working-class kid from England, who loves motorsports, is a passionate perfectionist and a family man. All aspects of his personal character fuse him with Ken Miles,” Mangold says during the eight-part making-of documentary.
Bale lost 70 pounds to play the slender Miles, losing the heavy weight he gained for his portrayal of Vice President Dick Cheney in “Vice,” for which he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Bale spent a good amount of time with the racer’s son Peter to get his persona down. “Once [Bale] set foot on the movie set he was in character, with the voice and physical movements,” says Damon.
Miles was driven by the “idea of the perfection of a perfect lap,” Bale says. “Every move he makes in the car, he’s deciding in advance. When he’s going to downshift. When he’s going to brake. How to handle the topography. It’s almost like it’s a moon landing,” Mangold says.
For decades Hollywood tried to make a movie about the series of events leading up to the famed 1966 Le Mans race between Ford and Ferrari. “This was a real turning point in the history of racing,” says actress Caitriona Balfe, who plays Mile’s wife Mollie. The friction between Shelby and his Southern California racing culture, the faultless tradition of Ferrari, and the American corporate influence were what drove Mangold to the project. “What always struck me was that, not only did it feature such unique characters, but nothing comes out exactly as you might predict,” he says.
(1) Ken Miles comes home a winner carrying his son Peter and the trophy. (2) Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) rejects the Ford Motor Company's bid to purchase the Italian car company. (3) Ken Miles checks out the newest high-powered engine Ford and Shelby plan to place inside the GT40. (4) Carroll Shelby tells Ford executives Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) and Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) that Ken Miles should be one of the drivers for the Ford/Shelby race team.
Co-writer Jason Keller was impressed with how Mangold understood each of the characters: “He brought a real tenderness to these guys, who could easily be seen as just mechanics or gearheads or racecar drivers. He brought a deeper complexity to them.” Bale first read the script years before he and Mangold teamed up for the western “3:10 to Yuma.”
Miles’s son Peter was impressed by Bale’s commitment in getting to know his father. He provided photographs, articles, books, and audio recordings to help with the portrayal. Plus, Bale went to auto racing school. Once he had the driving down, he learned how to mimic Miles's facial expressions behind the wheel.
The 60-minute documentary also explores how the production recreated nine authentic Ford GT40 racing cars, the ultimate American muscle car. “They were like rocket ships. The fuel tanks were in the doors surrounding the driver in gas, with this massive engine underneath,” Damon says. The GT40 was so fast that, in a straight drag, it could beat the Ferrari “hands down, anytime,” the director says. The Ferrari was better known for its handling, giving it an edge to accelerate and decelerate. The brakes were the GT40’s weakest point; it was difficult to stop when it peaked at 230 miles per hour.
“What was most important to us was, in an age when everything feels possible because of computer graphics and visual effects, we wanted the high of being on the road. And not a movie digital simulation of it, but the reality of it.” —James Mangold
(1) Shelby gives Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) a test drive in his $9 million investment. (2) Miles barely survives a test run of the GT40, when its brakes overheat and cause the car to go up in flames. (3) Ken and Peter have a father and son talk about the perfect lap. (4) Ken's wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) provides some needed R&R late one night at the Shelby racing hanger. (5) A friendly fight between Shelby and Miles.
Mangold and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael places viewers directly inside the racecars. “We definitely wanted to make the audience feel what it’s like to be in these little death traps,” he says.
For much of the racing scenes Bale was seated inside the GT40, but it was strapped on top of a rig that did all the driving. Five cameras captured Bale’s performance and the GT40 body as it traveled on the tracks up to 120 mph. Mangold and Papamichael felt that was the maximum safe speed with the cameras rolling. The movie experience is so life-like it can feel as if you’re “breathing with the driver, feeling the road, every decision they’re making with the gear shift and the steering wheel,” Mangold says.
“Ah, man that was addictive,” Bale recalls.
Great detail was also given to filming on location in Le Mans, France; Italy, all around Southern California, Daytona, Florida, and Michigan. A good part of the first act was filmed at the 2.5 mile Willow Springs Road course track – the first such track in the U.S. – in the desert north of Los Angeles. While the majority of the Daytona track scenes were actually filmed at Fontana Speedway east of L.A.
Digital platforms get exclusive bonus features including “The 24-Hour Le Mans: Recreating the Course,” which is basically a track made out of country roads with uneven pavement, and difficult turns without barriers or fences – forming the three-mile loop. Today, the course has been modernized and made much safer, so it took months to recreate the track of 1966.
First, it was storyboarded; then came the stunts, visual effects and a second unit to capture the action. Two different tracks in Georgia were used to give the look and feel of the Loire Valley region of France. Mostly, it was filmed at the Road Atlanta track, Grand Prize Track in Savannah, plus several other locations including the long country road straightaway in Statesboro, Ga. The Le Mans pits and grandstands were built on an airstrip in north L.A., which gave the filmmakers plenty of space to get the cars up to normal racing speeds. Plus, digital includes a 14-minute conversation with Bale and Damon.
(1) Miles straps on his helmet before the start of the 1966 Le Mans. (2) Miles drives the No. 1 Ford GT40 toe-to-toe with the No. 21 Ferrari. (3) Rain clouds circle over the Le Mans race track. (4) Shelby snags a stopwatch from the Ferrari race team. (5) For most of the night, rain pours onto the Le Mans track.
Mangold and Papamichael captured the action on 4.5K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio). Sadly, it was mastered in 2K and then upconverted for this presentation. Still, the 4K watch has exceptional detail and clarity, a slight bump of onscreen resolution over the HD versions. It also reveals a nice wash of post-production film grain to give that 1960s analog look. Oddly, that’s a complete miss on the Blu-ray, because of blown-out highlights.
As expected, the expansive Dolby Vision and HDR10 contrast toning produces deeper dark levels, without losing shadow detail, and overall brightness. Facial colors are natural and balanced and uncovers more face markings and costume textures.
Clearly the best option is the 4K (disc & digital) provide the enveloping eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack for front, rear and height speakers. The Oscar-winning sound mix bounces around the theater room delivering the roar of engines, squealing tires, track announcers and a comical but fictional twin-engine airplane scene, which Shelby pilots and buzzes a crowd before the unveiling of the Ford/Shelby Mustang GT350 in 1965.
The pulsating score from Marco Beltrami and longtime partner Buck Sanders, their fourth with Mangold, fuel the atmosphere from the front speakers with a 15-piece ensemble combining 1960s rock and jazz with electric guitars, small brass, and drums. Plus, there are plenty of great tunes from the era including “Money (That’s What I Want)” by The Kingsmen, “Don’t Bring Me Down” by The Animals, “Stop Your Sobbing” by The Kinks, “I Put a Spell on You” by Nina Simone, and “Stranger in a Strange Land” by The Byrds. No worries – dialogue is never lost in the action.
Considered the last 20th Century Fox studio movie, Mangold pulls off a stylish 7,000 RPMs ride, while presenting a portrait of two racing legends. Don’t miss this one!
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Shelby and the race team watch Miles dominate the track, while setting several fasting lap records. (2) Miles brings the Ford racing team across the finish line together at the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour racing marathon. (3) Peter and Mollie celebrate an apparent victory. (4) All smiles for Ken Miles.