Directed by: James MangoldWritten by: Jez Butterworth, John Henry Butterworth, Jason KellerStarring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Tracy Letts and Caitriona Balfe
Synopsis:American car designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Bale) battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.
I wanna talk about Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite”, I really do, but I know I can’t despite how much it’s burning away at my brain. I can’t because it’s the kind of film that the less you know about it going in, the richer your experience. Don’t even read the synopsis, just go in blind. Very quickly you’ll come to see why it’s one of the most acclaimed movies in years.
But to the matter at hand: “Ford Vs Ferrari” which is the kind of large-scale, audience pleaser that’s getting increasingly rare as it’s not based on a video game or comic book or part of any kind of franchise. It’s like a MOVIE movie. Remember movies? Unlike films which are about nourishing the soul and engaging the way you think or feel about the world around you, movies speak directly to the gut and you either enjoy them or hate them and then move on. That’s it. No in between, nothing after. Movies. Like “Tom Cruise battles aliens”: movie. Or “Are will Smith and Martin Lawrence good boys? No, they’re bad boys. And they have guns.” Movie!
They used to make movies all the time but then everything all of a sudden had to be part of a 7 movie series or some kind of shared universe or a trilogy of prequels. It’s rare these days to come across just a straight-up, big-budget, stand-alone movie. And at $100m, suffice to say that “Ford Vs Ferrari” is a huge gamble which, thank God, they knock right out of the fucking park! Movie budgets seem like they should only matter to the money men but trying to understand how the money works paints a clearer picture of what kinds of stories find financing.
This is your classic underdog story, on two fronts. On the one hand you have American car manufacturer, Ford, known for its assembly line efficiency and mass production, taking on the finely crafted, individually assembled reigning champ, Ferrari, at the most prestigious car race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Then within that rivalry you have these two outsiders, former world champ Carroll Shelby (Damon) and maverick racer Ken Miles (Bale), who are brought in by famed salesman Lee Iaccoca to develop the car Ford hopes will beat Ferrari. Only the corporate branch of Ford is not exactly welcoming, with one particular executive (Leo Beebe, played by Josh Lucas as the primary antagonist) persistently jeopardizing Shelby and Miles’ efforts.
But there’s a lot more under the hood of this car. (I apologize for this and promise to use no more racing puns for all of my days.)
The film succeeds because of how richly developed the friendship between Shelby and Miles is. You BELIEVE their friendship, you laugh with them, you root for them. Matt Damon is his usual, mostly likeable self, but Christian Bale is the star of this film. It’s kind of nuts how talented an actor this guy is. Put aside the extreme weight loss/weight gain, strip away the various accents and affectations. He’s just such a chameleon who fully embodies whatever character he’s playing. You’re never watching Christian Bale; all that’s there is the character. It helps that we know next to nothing about the man’s personal life and I’ve never understood how more actors don’t get this. It’s fine if all you want is to be a movie star but the bigger your celebrity, the harder it is to buy you in a role, no matter how good an actor you are.
All in all, great film, awesome racing sequences and they try very hard to sidestep the wearisome, concerned-wife trope of these kinds of movies. My one hang up is that there is a very clear and definite point where this film *should* end, where the arcs of this particular story come to their fitting conclusion, but it carries on with a 15min epilogue that truly belonged in postscript.
“Ford vs Ferrari” is nevertheless a triumphant, rip-roaring return to non-franchise spectacle and I’m happy to see director James Mangold continue his blockbuster run after delivering the Wolverine movie we waited almost 20 years to see (“Logan”, not “The Wolverine”).
If you have the chance to see it, watch “Parasite” (!!!) and until then, avoid spoilers.