Home » At the Multiplex » Ford v Ferrari
         

Ford v Ferrari

I know it took me a long time to get to this one. That’s partly because of the film’s long-ish runtime and partly because I’ve been so swamped in new releases, but I was also highly skeptical of the premise.

Ford v Ferrari is based on true events, centered around the French “24 Hours of Le Mans” race of 1966. This is the event in which Ford sought to build a car that could beat Ferrari in one of the world’s most prestigious marathon car races. So it’s a pissing match between two of the biggest automotive conglomerates on the planet. Ask me if I care.

But then I saw a behind-the-scenes featurette that put the conflict into a new perspective. Ford is built on blue-collar Americana, mass-producing reliable cars that anyone can afford. Ferrari, on the other hand, is all about white-collar clientele, hand-crafting sleek and sexy Italian-made cars. So we’ve got a kind of culture clash going on — that could be interesting. And anyway, it’s James Mangold directing with Matt Damon and Christian Bale leading the cast, all proven and reliable talents.

A month after release, and the movie is improbably still pulling down serious box office dollars and awards buzz. So I finally went to see the film and it turns out that my first instinct was right. Just not in the way that I’d expected and far better than I would’ve thought.

See, Ford is a massive company. It’s a multifaceted conglomerate with armies of lawyers, advertising consultants, executives, and God knows who else. These are the kind of people who have to constantly be in control of everything, take credit for every success, deflect all blame for failure, and they’re extremely allergic to unreliability.

Sticking with the safe bet is a good way to get promoted and build a reputation within a corporation, but that’s not a good way to push boundaries or win a race. Ford is entering a race it knows virtually nothing about, trying to build a car that’s faster than they’ve ever gone, and the pencil-pushers are too full of themselves to even realize — much less admit — how far out of their depth they are. The suits in charge keep trying to bring Le Mans down to their level and invariably look for someone else to take the fall when it fails spectacularly.

The Ford execs need racing veterans like Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles (respectively played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale), but they’re too afraid to give up any degree of control to the employees who were specifically hired to know better. These idiots are dead weight who do absolutely nothing to help win this race, and in fact actively sabotage their own team for the sake of corporate image and petty spite.

On the other hand, the fact remains that our race car team needs the money and resources that Ford can provide or they’ve got nothing. Additionally, there’s the irrefutable fact that Ken Miles is in fact an abrasive and unpredictable asshole with crippling anger management issues. Annoying as it is to see the Ford execs trying at every turn to muscle Ken out, it really is kind of a legitimate question as to whether keeping this jackass around is worth winning a race. Because make no mistake, the only way Ford is winning this race is if they suck it up and put Ken Miles behind the wheel.

But then we have Catriona Balfe and Noah Jupe on hand, playing Ken’s wife and son. The family’s financial problems give Ken an added motivation to stay on the team and win, even if it means swallowing his own pride at times. The more tender family moments give Ken some much-needed dimension to show that he’s more than just a raging asshole and there’s someone he cares about more than himself. They also raise the emotional stakes, giving Ken a compelling reason to survive this extremely dangerous race, even if it means slowing down at times. Last but not least, all of this is aided by the charming interplay and elegant performances of Bale, Balfe, and Jupe.

All of this is more than the Ford executives get. Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca are played as men of greed and ego, but at least they’re salvaged by the natural charisma and seasoned talents of Tracy Letts and Jon Bernthal. Compare that to Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) who’s a straight-up, brown-nosing, petty, ignorant, pompous stock villain with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

The unwitting moderator for these two sides is Carroll Shelby, one of the few American drivers to win Le Mans before heart problems forced him to retire and design race cars. It’s Matt Damon, so of course he’s more than capable of holding his own against the wonderful talents in the cast. Even so, there were too many moments — most especially the extreme close-up shots — when I found myself wishing he’d stop chewing gum or tobacco or whatever the hell was in his mouth. That was a totally unnecessary distraction.

Otherwise, the film looks perfectly fine. The camerawork and editing are all aces, most especially during the car scenes. From the huge sweeping shots to the tiniest details in the sound design, from the exhilarating crashes to every last shot of a gear shift, everything about the race car scenes is immersive and breathtaking. If that’s what you came for, you will more than get your money’s worth.

That said, I was a little disappointed by the film’s score. Marco Beltrami is certainly no slouch, and his protege Buck Sanders has built up a respectable CV in his own right. Even so, the music never quite coalesced into anything solid, much less worthy of the action onscreen. It’s close, but not quite there.

I had a blast watching Ford v Ferrari. The basic conflict of the lone artist struggling to work within a soulless corporate framework has been done to death, but the high-octane premise and the fleshed-out characters put a new spin on the tired theme. Even the weakest performances are solid enough, the racing scenes are perfectly thrilling, and it’s paced to make the 150-minute runtime fly by. Definitely check it out.

Leave a Reply