Ford v Ferrari – 2019

Director James Mangold
Screenplay Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Starring Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon

Ford v Ferrari is the kind of film that might seem a generic exercise in storytelling were it not for its historical significance, the characters and a director who perfectly captures a moment in time. In the backdrop of the collision between the working class factories of Ford in America and the individually created super racing machines of the European aristocratic class, we get the story of how a company learns to break out of a box of its own creation.

They start by trying to work out a deal to purchase Ferrari. The Italian racing giant has gone broke by concentrating on only that. They sell few cars, but those they make are remarkable. After Ford gives them an offer, Ferrari leverages that number to Fiat who counters, allowing the owner Enzo (Girone) to keep control in the process. After this, he rudely tells off Henry Ford II (Letts) through his VP Lee Iacocca (Bernthal). Ford decides he’s had enough.

Meanwhile, Carroll Shelby (Damon) has moved on, after winning the 1959 LeMans. He is unable to drive due to an issue with his heart. Now he designs and sells sports cars. One of his friends, Ken Miles (Bale), has lost his auto shop due to his dedication to designing and racing his own cars.

Iacocca enlists Shelby, who in turn recruits a somewhat reluctant Miles. Why is Miles reluctant? The movie never quite explains. Dramatic license is my guess. As if that weren’t enough, Miles and another Ford exec Leo Beebe (Lucas) don’t hit it off. It’s hard to imagine that going bad down the line.

Herein lies the biggest problem with the film. Most films about great events in sporting always seem to require some sort of storyboarded side drama, aside from the thing itself. You can almost feel the author’s pulling the literary puppet strings on Beebe’s every decision, and it just feels like a gimmick.

Even so, this does lead to one great scene involving a locked office with all of the shades down and a ride around the track for Ford with Shelby at the wheel. The reaction by Letts immediately upon the halting of the incredibly overwhelming experience is one of the true highlights of the film. It feels like an Oscar moment.

Speaking of awards, the acting is superior throughout. Damon gives Shelby’s character the feeling of a well worn pair of jeans. He walks the line between gravitas and amiability.

Bale, who once more pulled off a dramatic weight loss for Ken Miles, gives just another routine performance of a lifetime. He feels like he’s spent a lifetime working on cars and not being understood, even if he’s clearly a great guy. As his wife, Balfe gets the only screentime of any woman in the film. She lights up every scene as more than a match for her husband.

The biggest surprise of the film is the inclusion of McKinnon as Phil Remington. His importance is played down to the relaxed pace of the veteran character actor. It’s still a highlight to see his genius at work solving some problems with ideas never before conceived. From all accounts, Remington is a key component to Ford’s overall success and it is nice that the script finds a way to include him.

Mangold is not in love with auto racing, though he does a good job disguising it. His development of the team of racers and execs overcoming themselves to move ahead in the world of racing and ultimately in the market as well. The recreation of 1960’s in both culture and design of the cars is exceptional. It feels like the best time ever and everything is still clean and neat. There are no cultural barriers to expose, and no politics. This is just a film about what it takes to make a car go faster…aside from all that exec road block stuff.

This movie has the potential to be a big hit. My theater was packed for the earliest show on Saturday morning. Most of the viewers were over my age of 48. This is a surprise if one considers that most people my age don’t go to movies. This movie feels like something relatable to people who don’t expect films to be relatable anymore.

As for me, I learned some things. It made me want to learn more. I went home and immediately rented The 24 Hour War documentary by Adam Carolla and Nate Adams. Any day a movie makes your world of experience a little bit larger, that is a good day.

(**** out of *****)

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