DRAMA; 2hr 32min
STARRING: Matt Damon, Christian Bale
Auto mechanics: Bale (left) and Damon
In 1966, the Ford GT40, redesigned by Carroll Shelby (Damon) and driven by Ken Miles (Bale), would break Ferrari’s five-year stranglehold on the 24 Hours of Le Mans marathon race, going on to hold the winning title for a further three years. Those are the facts of Walk the Line director James Mangold’s rip-roaring biographical actioner. The heart of the matter, as Damon’s Shelby sums it up, is, “Who are you?”
That’s a biggie no matter how you choose to live your life—although it’s safe to say that few challenges test a man’s mettle more than risking eternity in a speeding bullet. That the Ford Motor Company, mostly synonymous with suburbia and about as exciting as a snooze, came to build such a demon speedster comes down, in this diligent telling, to the brute force of a frustrated ego. Knocked back by a snooty Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) on a takeover deal, a bellicose Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is ropeable and itching for revenge. Enter good ol’ Texan boy Carroll and stroppy Brit Ken, radical thinkers, eventual buddies and confirmed square pegs commissioned by corporate to build “the fastest car in the world.”
It’s a no-brainer choice on one level. These dudes are the best at what they do, bar none. But by their very nature, square pegs are head-butters, and the journey from concept to course is a thicket of cross-purposes. (Catriona Balfe does her utmost along the way as Ken’s Waiting Wife, Mollie; ditto Noah Jupe as his worshipful young son, Peter, while Josh Lucas is a snide nuisance as Ford suit Leo Beebe.)
But the outside world falls away when Bale’s Ken gets behind the wheel. His sensational racing is velocity as force of will: man fused with machine to test the limits of them both. If racetrack stadiums are rock concerts, sealed inside their stripped-down cars, the stars of the show are paradoxically alone. It’s there, with cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s camera holding tight to his face and Bale a study in hawkish single-mindedness, that the most significant tests are passed.