Firing on all cylinders is nothing new for Christian Bale, Matt Damon, or director James Mangold. Here, they all cross the finish line together.
I'm not sure there's much truth to many of the details contained within "Ford v Ferrari," or that these events unfolded in the way that's portrayed on-screen. What I do know is that "Ford v Ferrari" fuel-injects some fun into the racing genre with a movie that celebrates everything that is American, warts and all. It's a racing film with heart, laughs and a sense of history, light enough to handle the turns and solid enough at its core to drive things home.
The movie begins with us getting familiar with the inside dealings at the Ford Motor Company, and we meet one particularly ambitious executive, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), who would of course one day become one of the most successful businessmen in the history of our country. Iacocca convinces Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) that it's in Ford's interest to purchase the struggling Ferrari company, which they attempt to do. But when Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) backs out of the deal and insults Mr. Ford personally, oh it's on now...Ford vows to do whatever it takes to whip Ferrari's ass at the famed "24 Hours of Le Mans" race in France...a race that has been dominated by Ferrari for years.
Having been given a "blank check" to beef up Ford's struggling Racing Division and win this race, Iacocca recruits Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a famous driver who became the first - and only - American to win at the famed "24 Hours of Le Mans" back in 1959, and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) who was also an esteemed driver, a Brit who was as famous for his bad temper as he was his amazing skills behind the wheel. Shelby had a rare heart condition took him out of the driver's seat and into a role as the owner of Shelby American Inc., responsible for building some of the best and fastest cars of its time. Ken Miles had a special relationship with Carroll Shelby, but it was threatened when some execs within Ford, namely Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), wanted the brash and brazenMiles to have nothing at all to do with their wholesome, family brand.
Clearly, director James Mangold ("Logan") set out to make a fast, fun film. The racing scenes are extremely well-done and paced, even though it doesn't appear he's using any new techniques. But we're dropped onto the racetrack, into the pits and even inside the cars themselves and even at over two-and-a-half-hours, "Ford v Ferrari" really feels like it zooms by.
It's also quite obvious that this telling of this slice of history is from an American point-of-view. Ferrari - here painted as the villains - really didn't do anything wrong, and if you stop for a moment to think about it, why the hell did Ford think he could just waltz right over and buy Ferrari? This major American conglomerate known for quantity, not quality, wants to buy a company that hand-makes its vehicles? I think Mr. Ferrari went easy on Ford by only calling him a fat pig.
And that's not the only "questionable" perspective in the film. American ingenuity, as it exists in "Ford v Ferrari," is only possible if you have endless resources and financial backing to get you there. I'm not certain that Shelby and MIles worked any harder than those at Ferrari, but if the gamesmanship was really happening between Ford and Ferrari on the corporate level, then why do we get scenes with Shelby stealing stopwatches out of the Ferrari pit stop, or trying to sabotage them in other ways? This movie doesn't just want you to root for Ford and America over Ferrari, it wants you to kick them while they're down...you know, the American Way.
The film is surprisingly funny, and overall it's one of the best scripts of the year, save for the fact that it felt compelled to create another "villain" other than Ferrari with the inclusion of Ford ass-kisser Leo Beebe. He really has it out for Ken Miles, to the point where he nearly destroys his own company and career in the process. His motivations are no more clear or complex than a guy like Skeletor or Cobra Commander, hellbent on his agenda for no clear reason. You'd think Beebe would want Ford to succeed? If Miles is SO bad for the Ford brand, then why is Beebe the only person in the film who has a problem with him?
This cartoonish subplot aside, "Ford v Ferrari" as a wonderful film to see and hear on the big-screen, and it should be noted that you do not have to be a "car person" in order to enjoy this ride. Granted, there are several jokes and Easter eggs thrown in for car aficionados to lap up, so it's a must-see if you consider yourself in this group.
At such a time when Americans feel more divided than ever, "Ford v Ferrari" looks to unite us - if but for a few hours - with our common love for friendship, speed, machines and winning at all costs. It feels good to feel good about ourselves again, even if the facts here are more checkered than the final flag.
Genre: Action, Biography, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 32 minutes.
Starring: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Roberta Sparta, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, Josh Lucas, Tracy Letts.
Directed by James Mangold ("Logan," "The Wolverine," "Knight and Day," "Walk the Line").
"Ford v Ferrari" opens theatrically on Friday, November 15th, 2019.
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