Ford V Ferarri
Starring Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, Tracy Letts
I have serious questions about the critical reactions coming from the Telluride Film Festival. Numerous times recently critics there, who got the first crack at some of the most anticipated fall season films, oversold expectations. All that to say that James Mangold is the kind of director you can usually count on. His films “Walk the Line,” “Girl Interrupted” and “Logan” all made their marks on past awards seasons. “Ford v Ferrari” is in many ways the quintessential ‘America First’ story. The Ford dudes lie, steal and trick the foreign competition for a win. The surprises here are the emotionless family dynamic which Mangold mastered so well with “3:10 To Yuma.” There is a lot more talking than racing. The screenplay has a structure quite similar to “Seabiscuit” but never rises to the level of articulation or integrity of the earlier film.
“James Bond does not drive a Ford,” that’s Lee Lacocca’s pitch to Henry Ford II (Letts) to get the American motor company headed in a different direction. When Ford tries to buy the suffering Ferrari they are handed their hat, and the Italian sports car company merges with Fiat instead. Ford now has a reason to compete and brings on hot-head American car designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his faithful driver Ken Miles (Bale). Shelby comes up with the ideas and Miles perfects and races them. But the Ford guys, especially second in command Leo Beebe don’t want Miles as the face of their new venture. His social status and accent isn’t their style. In order to outsmart and outrace Ferrari at the 24 Hour Le Mans race in 1966, it will take an entire team working as one to prove to the world that America can go faster.
"“Wait for it,” Shelby keeps saying.... We keep waiting for whatever “it” is and it never comes."
The story is mostly told from Miles perspective, he is the after all the honest racing hero. He has some anger and social issues, thanks to his time in combat during World War II. This was alluded to subtly, by his wife gently touching a black and white photo of him in service uniform to explain this. It’s true we are not promised a racing film, but two-third of “Ford v Ferrari” is an argument between the guys designing and racing the cars and with the guys in suits who run Ford. When we finally do get to the racing it’s not the thrilling race sequences seen in “Rush.” In fact, nothing about this film holds a candle to the Ron Howard racing film. The “Seabiscuit” structure comes in as we watch a civil racing competition, become international racing war, ending with a similar “slow down to catch up” solution. The “Seabiscuit” script found a way to make that historical event about three broken men who became better humans because of their collaboration. “Ford v Ferrari” is only about greed, and wanting to be first for bragging rights.
One of the picture’s more pleasurable moments occurs when Bale punches Damon in the face, momentarily halting his obnoxious gum-chewing. Neither Damon nor Bale have award-worthy roles here, both having played some facet of these characters before. “Wait for it,” Shelby keeps saying while watching his driver take turns like no one else. We keep waiting for whatever “it” is and it never comes. “Ford v Ferrari” gets stuck in the same gear and spins wildly out of control. The sound effects during the racing are exciting elements for sure and the practical visual effects are so good you can’t spot them. If a sense of pride is what we are supposed to feel, then it’s a failure. After a string of award-winning films, including “Logan,” Mangold misses the mark with his latest slice of Americana.
"James Mangold’s talky American racing film sputters off track and bores the audience in the process."