Release Date(s)2019 (February 11, 2020)
Studio(s)Chernin Entertainment/TSG/Turnpike (20th Century Fox)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B-
In 1963, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), seeking to bolster flagging sales of his company’s automobiles, sets out to do something no other American car maker has ever done—win the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans road race typically dominated by Ferrari. With money no object, Ford tasks Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) to hire the best driver and car designer he can find: none other than Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the only American ever to win at Le Mans. Shelby had to give up racing after his victory due to a heart condition, so he’s eager to get back in the action. And he knows exactly the man he needs to build the world’s fastest car: Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a hot-tempered Brit who’s also the purest driver on wheels. But Shelby’s offer comes just as Ken has promised his wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) that he’ll quit racing and find a real job. And Caroll, Ken, and Lee have just ninety days to pull off their coup… and engineer the biggest upset in racing history.
Here’s the thing to know about Ford v Ferrari—it’s nothing fancy. This is not an issues film, there’s no important message here. Yes, it’s a period piece about overgrown boys and their toys. But it’s also a terrific bit of old-school filmmaking. Every part of this production ticks along like a stopwatch, operating at maximum efficiency. The writers, the director, the cast, the production designers, the editors, the sound mixers—all are at the top of their game. This is one of the best racing films I’ve ever seen, captured practically with real cars on real tracks. You’re not seeing glamour shots here—you’re right in the cockpit with the drivers, in the thick of the action. And racing is actually the least important aspect of this film.
Damon and Bale embody their roles so completely, they make it look effortless. This is the story of a friendship between two unique and almost completely different human beings, bonded by the same passion for performance. There’s deep understanding of character here, and the actors’ humanity meshes seamlessly with the real-life personalities they’re playing. The rest of this cast is terrific too. Balfe (better known for Starz’s Outlander) makes the most of every minute she has on screen. (A scene where Mollie takes Miles on a hair-raising station wagon ride is priceless.) Bernthal (The Walking Dead) as Lee Iacocca? Perfect. So too Letts (Lady Bird), Ray McKinnon (Deadwood), Josh Lucas (American Psycho), and young Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place). Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael knocks it out of the park with an approach that emphasizes reality first, beauty second. Add a playful, Jazz-infused score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, not to mention Oscar-worthy sound design, and this baby really flies around the track. I’ll tell you, James Mangold has made some fine movies in his day—Cop Land, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, Logan. But this is his one best yet.
Ford v Ferrari was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec at 4.5K using Arri Alexa LF cameras and Panavision anamorphic lenses—actual period glass. It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 only is available here) and upsampled for its 4K release. That extra capture resolution makes a big difference; the image is clean and crisp, with tight fine detail and lovely texturing. An example of the difference can be seen early in the film, when Miles is educating a snotty auto shop client—he’s wearing a thin pinstripe-patterned shirt that would give lesser resolution sensors all kinds of hell. Better still, the filmmakers haven’t screwed up their photography in post—other than a light wash of cinema grain, there’s nothing to get between you and the action on screen. The HDR expands the contrast gently with zero crush, allowing for inky black shadows and lifelike highlights, all while retaining detail. The colors are luminous and natural, at once richly saturated and delicately nuanced. For a 2K DI, this is a gorgeous image.
The audio is even better. For my money, this is one of the best Dolby Atmos mixes of the year. The soundstage is big and wide up front and behind. Tonally, the mix has a full throaty sound with gutsy, aggressive placement and muscular low end. MGs, Vettes, and Cobras roar all around the listening space, tires squealing and V8 engines growling as they sweep the frame. But the mix impresses in quiet moments too. In one scene, Ford harangues employees on a factory floor and his voice echoes through the cavernous space. In Shelby’s custom shop, you can hear the soft click of socket wrenches and the louder whir of pneumatic ones equally well. The movement is lively, the panning is smooth as butter. Both dialogue and score are presented with excellent fidelity. My advice is to turn this mix up good and loud… and enjoy every minute. Additional sound selections include English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, and Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. Optional subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish, French, two forms of Chinese, and Korean.
Fox’s Ultra HD package includes the 4K disc and the film in 1080p on a Blu-ray as well. That second disc also includes a pair of trailers and an 8-part documentary called Bringing the Rivalry to Life, broken up into shorter segments as follows (all in HD):
- Prologue: The Perfect Lap (3:45)
- Directing the Rivalry (5:06)
- The Real Ken Miles (11:56)
- The Real Carroll Shelby (8:53)
- The Real Ford GT40 (5:59)
- What Makes a Good Movie Car (9:08)
- Creating an Era (12:50)
- Epilogue: Brotherhood (2:43)
- Official Trailer (2:25)
- Official Trailer 2 (2:30)
Based on those run times, I imagined this would be just another glossy EPK. Much to my surprise, it’s actually a pretty solid hour of behind-the-scenes content. The producer seems to have had direct and unlimited access to Mangold, the cast, and virtually every aspect of this production. There are real insights here on racing, filmmaking, and the real men the story is based on, with genuinely thoughtful comments by the actors and crew. You get to see deleted moments, unique happenings on the set, interesting details about the effort to recreate the cars and the period. The thing that’s abundantly clear after watching this documentary is that—for all involved—Ford v Ferrari was a special project. I do wish there was more content here, maybe a commentary or actual deleted scenes. (My understanding is that iTunes has an exclusive interview with Damon and Bale, which irritates the hell out of me.) Yet I still felt satisfied by what is included, and that’s a rare thing these days. Of course, there’s also a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert.
James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is just a damn great film. Top to bottom and fender to fender, this is the best cinema experience I’ve had in a good long while. I don’t know if it’ll win the Academy Award for Best Picture or not, but it sure as hell gets the job done. It’s hands down my favorite film of 2019 and one that I’ll revisit often in the years to come. It makes for a damn fine 4K Ultra HD experience too. Don’t miss it.
- Bill Hunt