Movie Review: Ford v Ferrari

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PG-13 | 

Director: James Mangold

by Jason Koenigsberg

Director James Mangold has been consistently making quality films for over twenty years now and for the most part he has been doing it his way. He has diversified his pictures and avoided the trendy genre trappings that plague most studio films. His two comic book movies The Wolverine (2013) and Logan (2017) felt more like a samurai riff and a remake of the classic 1953 western Shane than they did traditional X-Men or Marvel movies. Now his newest film Ford v Ferrari, based on a true story, feels like a throwback to a movie Steve McQueen would have produced and starred in. This is a real treat for a certain type of male moviegoer. A steak and potatoes flick that your dad will love. A Christmas present that feels more like a Father’s Day present but a very enthralling present that goes over 200mph with great acting, sets, costumes, cinematography, and sound design. 

The film opens up with a shot of the road at night as the camera moves very fast over the pavement letting us know that we are going to be in the drivers seat as we speed to the finish line. Ford v Ferrari is the kind of old fashioned movie that reminds you how great life used to be during America in the 1960’s (at least if you were white) when the biggest problem for some people was winning a race at Daytona or Le Mans. This movie has a very pro-America feel and it earns it with its solid craftsmanship. James Mangold gets his actors and the mise en scene to sell this story and uses the budget to make a thrilling and satisfying picture. Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby who designs the car and Christian Bale, in one of his most likable performances plays Ken Miles who will drive the car. It tells the story of these two and their turbulent friendship. Damon’s Shelby is more clean cut after doctors forced him to stop racing, Bale’s Miles is a family man and a loving husband and father, but still very rough around the edges. They get wrapped up in a pissing contest between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari. Ford’s son desperately wanted to win racing championships especially the prestigious yet grueling 24 hour race in Le Mans, France to show up Mr. Ferrari and improve his companies image. The result is that Ford v Ferrari is much better than it has any business being. This is probably one of the best racing movies ever made. 

Matt Damon is dynamic as he conveys the inner conflict of being tugged between Ford’s big corporate vision and his gut which is what he has always trusted to make his cars and win his races. Christian Bale plays a character that should not come off as endearing yet somehow he unleashes a charm that makes you root for him and smile every time he succeeds on screen either on the track or in small moments with his wife and son. Tracy Letts is terrific as Henry Ford II, living in the shadow of his father with an insecurity that he needs to live up to the great American legacy his father created reminding people that he was born ready because his name is on the steering wheel. The other performance to savor is Jon Bernthal as Lee Iacocca, the Ford employee who puts this whole scheme together after his bid to buy Ferrari fails and is met with humiliation and insult. These are all relatable characters that come alive and make Ford v Ferrari have a more human and emotional element that being just an excuse to watch fast cars. 

But do not underestimate the racing scenes, especially the climactic one at Le Mans. The sound design and fast paced editing make the action sequences come alive and is worth seeing Ford v Ferrari on the biggest screen with the best surround sound possible. Mangold has great command of the visuals and sound and has the best people working at the top of their game to make sure that they delivered some of the most riveting car races audiences can see making the best use of their big budget and technology at their disposal. The actors do their part, the effects team delivers on their end. This is what more big budget movies should strive to be. 

With that being said, Ford v Ferrari is not perfect, few films are. Caitriona Balfe never convinces that she is Christian Bale’s wife. In the few scenes they share they have little onscreen chemistry and she has one really dramatic fight with him that actually felt like the most unrealistic scene in the movie. She never came off as real or genuine, just annoying and as a prop to enhance Christian Bale’s Ken Miles, who seemed more believable as a father to his son. Perhaps more TLC went into composing those tender moments because Ford v Ferrari is very much a movie about the important bond between fathers and sons. Plus that is their target audience. This movie was made for dads and their boys. Also, as entertaining as Ford v Ferrari is one of its biggest flaws should be pointed directly at James Mangold for letting the movie go on about ten minutes too long. He sort of ‘Spielberg’s’ it up tacking on a sappy, overly sentimental ending showing the audience something just to tug at their heart strings when a simple text over the penultimate scene would have sufficed and probably been more powerful. It is a long movie and practically every moment is vital other than the end coda. All in all Ford v Ferrari is a winner for everyone, not just macho guys that are obsessed with cars. 

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