Ford v Ferrari and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by James Mangold
With the Disney/Fox merger, there were bound to be a few films lost in the shuffle with at least one that seems to have INTENTIONALLY been shelved for the foreseeable future (*cough* New Mutants *cough*). This film was originally scheduled for earlier in the year but instead they pushed it to Oscar season which frankly seems like a solid move considering this ticks off a lot of awards bait boxes; it being a period piece relying heavily on Americana and nostalgia for the non-hippie version of the sixties while also starring two big name actors to lend a bit of clout and respectability to the proceedings. Does this movie about cars going fast manage to be about something much more, or is this yet another movie destined for heavy rotation on TNT and nowhere else? Let’s find out!!
Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles (Matt Damon and Christian Bale) don’t get along all that well but they both seem to respect the other with Shelby being a great car designer and former racer and Miles being the best racer alive with a flawless instinct for driving as well as the inner workings of the car itself. These two have been given something of a golden opportunity as Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is determined to have one of his cars beat Ferrari at the biggest race in the world; the La Mans. With his vice president (Jon Berenthal) leading the charge, Shelby comes on board with the project and convinces Miles to go along with it as well despite his hot head and distrust of corporations; a mistrust that may be well founded as interference from the higher ups constantly gets in their way of doing what needs to be done in order to beat Ferrari and prove that Ford cars can be just as powerful and sexy as European models! Can Shelby thread the needle of the Ford Company’s misguided directives with Miles’s inability to get along with others? What kind of new tricks and technology will they need to develop in order to claim a victory that has eluded Ford for so long? Is it just me or is a movie with Batman and Jason Borne that’s being directed by the guy who made Logan somehow as cool as that description would imply despite the film ACTUALLY being about regular cars?
Boy is this film EXACTLY what it wants to be! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the king of all Dad Movies (Copland, 3:10 to Yuma, Logan) has made the most definitive example of the genre, but if you’re in the mood for something like that I can’t imagine a better movie to go out and see right now. Because of how specific its formula is, I can see it not working for a lot of people and I certainly have my own complaints here and there, but sometimes doing something right means doing it with a laser focus than painting with a broad pallet and I can’t imagine a better way of telling this story. I’d be hard pressed to say it’s of particular interest outside its very clear target audience (and it’s not like I could even tell you the difference between a ford and a Ferrari), but I think there’s enough going on under the hood that plenty of people will find something to appreciate about it!
So what exactly IS a Dad Movie and how does this succeed in just being one of those but by being a GREAT one of those? To me, the elements of a Dad Movie are as follows; superficially masculine trappings, plenty of aggressive male posturing through a lighthearted lens (though sardonic or straight up dark humor can be used as well), and the whole story ultimately tries to say something about or preconceptions of masculinity as part of the story arc. Men reflecting on what it is to be men is about as cliché as storytelling can get, but it’s something that can still be done WELL when given to the right storyteller, and in this case the inclusion of James Mangold seems to be the key as he’s proven over and over again that he can take stories about MANLY MEN doing VERY MANLY THINGS and turn them into very enjoyable and rather poignant experiences. Heck, Logan may have had a solid decade and a half of buildup to get to the point where that kind of story would work, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as great if the person shaping that raw potential wasn’t so darn good at his job. Mangold has about as much material to work with here as cars are only behind sports and cowboys as far as typical MANLY things, and the relationship between matt Damon and Christian Bale is exactly the kind of male bonding that you want to hang a narrative like this off of. Give one of them a particularly bad temper while giving the other a story about the power of the individual over the wisdom of a committee, it’s no surprise that this movie turned out to be so good at being this one VERY specific thing.
So let’s get into the specifics here. First of all, the two primary performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale are excellent with the former having a really tough part to play as someone struggling to stay passive and professional while the latter is having a lot of fun more or less embracing the angry jerk side of his public perception that came to light after the Terminator footage leaked. Bale is ranting and raving throughout the entire movie which is fun to watch in a very visceral way (especially since the movie constantly puts busybodies and fools in his path) and you get a real sense of sympathy for Damon having to put up with him as well as the smarmy jerks at Ford who are paying for all of this. It all contributes to one of the movie’s main themes which is that of pride. Bale’s pride gets him into trouble all the time, the pride of those working at Ford keeps getting in the way of what they say they actually want, even the owner of Ferrari let’s his pride get the better of him despite having every reason to be prideful in his race cars. A lot of guys (particularly dads) struggle with this from time to time and while I won’t say it’s a full on deconstruction of toxic masculinity applicable to the modern age, it at least makes a case for compromise and even a degree of vulnerability not being the worst things in the world; nor are they incompatible with confidence and determination when facing such a herculean task. On top of that, it’s a really solid looking movie that creates at least a convincing facsimile of the late sixties aesthetic, and the racing scenes themselves are top notch with all the vrooms, quick camera work, and hard stares that you’d expect from a movie like this.
Where the problems come in are in just how narrow of a vision the movie has and what it ultimately excludes. If you’re looking for a movie with well-rounded female characters or even just non-white dudes who love cars, then you’re not going to find that here. Caitriona Balfe does a fine job with what she’s given, but it’s not much more than being an emotional rock for Christian Bale and enjoying the same things that he likes. Additionally, if you don’t know anything about cars you’re gonna be a bit left out of the loop on certain things. One of the first thing the movie tries to impart on you as its plot starts to gear up is how difficult the Le Mans race track is and the fact that you spend TWENTY FOUR HOURS in that race! TWENTY FOUR HOURS!? How utterly absurd is THAT! Little did I realize that later on the movie they go to Daytona where they ALSO drive for twenty four hours, and then we eventually get to Le Mans where the race track looks… fine I guess. Again, this is a movie with a very narrow focus so perhaps knowing the bare minimum about racing was something they took for granted and sure enough that there are things about this movie that I liked that probably have little to no appeal to many other people, but MAYBE they could have thrown us a bit of a bone here like if we got to see footage of previous Le Man races where cars were crashing and exploding in giant balls of fiery death. Also, and again this MAY just be more about my ignorance in regards to cars and racing than anything else, the dudes are clearly cheating. I won’t get into it, but they find a loophole that to me sounds about as plausible as THE RULEBOOK SAYS NOTHING ABOUT A DOG PLAYING BASKETBALL, in that it may not violate the letter of the law but is definitely against the spirit of it. I don’t know, I’m actually a bit curious if there are forums out there with heated debates about this very topic but at least the way they presented it in the movie it kind of took a bit of wind out the ending.
It’s a movie that’s definitely not going to be for everyone, but I’m surprised at how much it ended up being a movie for me. The performances are good, the cinematography is good, and I’m a sucker for a well done film about male bonding and the shallow gratification of BUCKING THE SYSTEM, MAN! If you’ve got a chance to see this I certainly would recommend checking it out while it’s still in theaters, but if you know that movies about cars and manly dudes doing manly things isn’t exactly your thing (unless it has The Rock or Vin Diesel in them which is a totally valid opinion), then maybe it’ll be worth waiting for the home release to find out whether this really is your cup of tea. Personally I don’t understand why they race around one track for an entire day at a time. Why don’t they just make one super big track with lots of twists, turns, moats, and lava pits, and just see who makes it to the end in one piece? All I’m saying is that Mario Kart is popular for a VERY good reason!