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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ford v Ferrari (also known as Le Mans '66) is a fact-based racing drama about events leading up to and including the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, it's briskly paced and entertaining enough to appeal even to nonracing fans. But it does include car crashes, explosions, drivers on fire, and people dying. Characters also fight, punch, and wrestle, and there are some violent temper tantrums. Language is fairly strong, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Era-appropriate brands are seen around the racetrack (Coppertone, Good Year, Budweiser, etc.). One character takes prescription medication for a heart condition, and there's some background smoking. A married couple flirts briefly.
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What's the story?
In FORD V FERRARI, race car driver Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) wins the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans race but is forced to retire due to a heart condition. Meanwhile, at the Ford Motor Company, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) proposes that the company start making race cars as a way to improve their image with younger drivers. An attempt to partner with Ferrari goes south, so Ford hires Shelby to build their car. Shelby, in turn, hires Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a talented but volatile driver, to help work out the bugs. Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) puts executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) in charge of the racing division, and Beebe immediately sets out to get rid of Miles. But Miles and Shelby have an ace up their sleeve: They actually have the talent to win races and have their sights set on the 1966 Le Mans. Nevertheless, Beebe has one last weaselly plan.
Is it any good?
This enjoyable fact-based racing movie runs a little long, but it manages to keep up a good, breezy pace, focusing more on pure entertainment than on trying to be dutifully "important." At the heart of Ford v Ferrari are two fine performances by Damon and Bale, whose characters forge a touching friendship that's based more on small gestures than on big demonstrations. Miles is a show-off, but Bale makes him seem real, with relatable worries and outrages. And Damon clearly enjoys his clever, quick-witted character, who still somehow makes genuine connections. Just as good is playwright Letts as the stern, rocky second Henry Ford; he's reduced to terrified screaming and joyful tears when Shelby takes him for a high-speed ride in his new car.
At the wheel, director James Mangold gives Ford v Ferrari the crisp, confident energy of his best genre films, Logan and 3:10 to Yuma (the latter of which also starred Bale), without letting it drift into the stodgy, awards-bait seriousness of his previous biopic Walk the Line. Ford v Ferrari is so simple and classic that it could have been sent here directly from the early 1960s. Perhaps its most niggling flaw is Lucas' slimy, one-dimensional villain character, who acts out of pure selfishness. But the racing sequences are impeccably timed, with thundering, thrilling sound design that could convert newbies into hard-core racing fans. Still, the movie's best achievement is the sly way it depicts the central friendship, largely unspoken but still surprisingly tender.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Ford v Ferrari's violence. How does it compare to what you might see in an action movie? What are the consequences? Do you think some people really watch racing just for the crashes?
Does the movie glamorize racing? How exciting does it look? How dangerous?
Are Shelby and Miles role models? They're both champions, but they're also complex people with weaknesses and dark sides. Does this make them bad people?
Why do you think there's so much advertising associated with racing? Does seeing a brand's logo at the racetrack make you want to seek out a specific product?
Could Henry Ford II be considered a bully? How does Shelby handle him? What other ways are there of dealing with bullies?
- In theaters: November 15, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: February 11, 2020
- Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe
- Director: James Mangold
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Cars and Trucks
- Run time: 152 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some language and peril
- Last updated: July 16, 2020
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