Ford v Ferrari (2019) Review

GO AHEAD, CARROLL. GO TO WAR!


 

Over the years, director James Mangold has done the “director’s round robin” in the Hollywood circulate of filmmaking. While he hasn’t exactly been “Pidgeon hold” to a particular style of genre, Mangold has certainly proven himself to be a very versatile director with several of his feature productions; dabbling in the realms of the crime noire with 1997’s Cop Land, to the psychological drama with 1999’s Girl, Interrupted, to the romantic comedy with 2001’s Kate & Leopold, to the biographical features with 2005’s Walk the Line, to the action comedy endeavors with 2010’s Knight & Day, and even the superhero movies with 2013’s Wolverine and 2017’s Logan. Now, following the successful and critically acclaim Logan, James Mangold seems to “shifts” gears into the sport genre of race car driving arena as he and 20th Century Fox (along with TSG Entertainment) present the movie Ford v Ferrari (or named Le Mans ’66 in international territories). Does Mangold’s sports drama race to the finish line or does it crash and burn?

THE STORY


After pushing his own heart too far in the race to become a championship driver, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) switches gears from driver to ownership, in charge of some of the finest race cars around. After a longstanding dispute with each other Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) and Ford Motor Company mogul Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) have decided to prove themselves on the racing circuit, with Ford desperate to overtake Ferrari and “stun” the world with their cars. Hiring Carroll to oversee the mission to win the coveted 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, Henry is unsure about the choice of the driver, with Shelby finding old pal Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to be a perfect fit for the job at hand, while some of the Ford’s higher ups, including Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) are concern over Shelby’s decision. However, despite his pedigree for understanding the intuition of racer and a keen sense of what lies under the hood, Ken juggles duties with wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe) as he works closely with Shelby’s team in trying to perfect the Ford GT40 for the big race. Unfortunately, with facing corporate setbacks and accidents, Carroll and Ken also contend with their friendship, striving to prove themselves by their car (and drive)) to their limits.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Like many directors out there (be it Hollywood renowned ones or relatively unknown ones), each director takes a stab into a variety film genre; testing the waters each one to craft a cinematic tale within each respective filmmaking realm. As stated above, director James Mangold has certainly run the “director’s round robin”, with many of his past projects from different backgrounds of genres. While I’ve seeing several of his past movies (I personally loved Kate & Leopold as a cute romantic comedy and Walk the Line was a great biopic movie and a great performance from actor Joaquin Phoenix), but I really didn’t know Mangold’s name (or at least paid attention to who was directing the movie) until I saw his two X-Men movies Wolverine and Logan. To be honest, I thought Wolverine was bit boring. Definitely an interesting idea, but the movie felt a bit mundane and pretty “meh” for me. However, I definitely agreed with many about how I felt when I watched Logan, which was a gritty R-rated film with plenty of heart. I definitely cried at the end as it was perfect farewell to both the character of Logan (aka Wolverine) and to actor Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the character. So, given the success that Logan received from critics and moviegoers, I was curious to see what movie Mangold would direct next.

This, of course, brings me back to talking about Ford v Ferrari, a 2019 sports biopic drama film and the latest project from James Mangold. As I said, I was curious to see what next project Mangold would work on next (after Logan) and I remember hearing that it was gonna be about the Le Mans 1966 race, which centered on the rivalry between Ford Motors and Ferrari. After that, I didn’t hear much about it…. until I saw the film’s movie trailer, which definitely got my attention. Judging from the trailer alone, the movie looked intriguing with an engaging story as well as the feature’s cast (Damon, Bale, Balfe, Bernthal, Lucas, etc.) attached to the project. So, I was very excited to see Ford v Ferrari and, while I did see during its opening weekend, I fell a little bit behind on getting my review for it done (my bad). So, I finally have the time to share with you (my readers) my thoughts on the movie. And what did I think of it? Well, I actually really liked it…a lot. Despite a few minor problems, Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari races fast and proves to be quite a highly entertaining piece, due to its thrilling race sequences and character driven performances from its leads. Definitely another solid “win” for Mangold.

With Mangold in the director’s chair, he certainly approaches Ford v Ferrari with both sincerity and grandiose cinematic, which definitely translates well within the feature’s presentation. The actual staging of the film’s various sequences and events are a testament to the director’s filmmaking knowledge and certainly knows how to allow the film’s various characters to tell the movie’s story rather than allowing the narrative to drive through the movie. Thus, despite the initial set-up premise of the feature, Mangold makes Ford v Ferrari a somewhat character-driven piece, with characters Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles acting as the real driving force and how they must push forward against the odds of mechanical setbacks and clash of egos with the Ford executives if they plan to win at the Le Mans race. Additionally, Mangold’s attention of staging of events definitely speaks to the film’s third act, which highlights the 24 Hour race at Le Mans beautifully; executing the sequences of events to be both thrilling and engaging, which showcases the whole “fast and furious” adrenaline rush of the race as well as presenting the feature’s narrative of all the respective characters. To me, the movie (as whole) is an engrossing feature, with Mangold able to connect into these particular characters in an interesting way; making Ford v Ferrari an entertaining feature from start to finish. So, even if you don’t particular care for all the biopic character drama, Mangold still manages to craft a solid sport racing drama.

Coinciding with that, the film’s script, which was penned by Jason Keller and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, is quite sharp and definitely as a tactfulness within its dialogue, especially those scenes of character-driven moments. Also, the writers interject the movie’s central core themes, which is part American corporate myth and part rea-life story of a group of artist in their profession who’re trying to stay true to their ultimate vision while working for a company that’s fare more interested in their public image and selling their “brand name” to the public. Personally, of those two parts, the latter seems to be the more “beating heart” of Ford v Ferrari, which offers a more compelling complexity to the simple tale of Ford Motors trying to beat Ferrari. There’s a sense of predictably to it all (more on that below), but the story ultimately works, with the writers delving into the feature’s narrative with well-written dialogue as well as Mangold keeping a firm hand on the film’s cinematic vision; producing a highly engrossing motion picture that’s more about producing a fast race car….it’s about the integrity and passion a person has for the things that define them.

As for the film’s production / presentation Ford v Ferrari is solidly well-made feature with plenty of background aesthetics and cinematic ingenuity to make the feature come alive within its execution. What I mean is…. the movie is a well-crafted and its presentation certainly speaks for itself. As I mentioned before, the reenactment / recreation of the 24 hours race at Le Mans is a true definite highlight of the film, with the cinematography work done by Phedon Papamichael projecting with a steady hand; cinematically taking us (the viewers) with a sheer exhilaration to see all the bends and twists and piston-pumping racing that occurs within this particular scene as well as all the racing scenes throughout the movie. Likewise, the rest of the feature’s “behind the scenes” technical / presentation achievements, including production designs (Francios Audouy), set decorations (Peter Lando), and costume designs (Daniel Orlandi), are all top-notch and give lend credence to the feature’s background and settings; enhancing the feature’s visual aesthetics. Also, I usually don’t mention this, but the actually sound editing / sound mixing on the feature is spot on, with all the “full-throttle” atmospheric sounds of race car track (i.e. twisting and turning of wheels, guttural roar of an engine, etc.). All are “masterful” pitch perfect tone and definitely add dramatic cinematic tension through the audio presentation of the movie. Speaking of which, the film’s score, which was composed by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders delivers a solid music composition throughout Ford v Ferrari, which definitely add to the feature’s presentation.

While there’s a lot to like about this movie (and there is), Ford v Ferrari does have a few minor criticisms that, while not tarnish the picture, act as small blemishes on Mangold’s cinematic canvas. Perhaps the ones that the most prevalent is in its overall predictable nature of the movie. With the movie being considered a sports theme endeavor (i.e. the racing aspect), the classic tropes of sports underdog scenarios and nuances quickly begin rise within the feature and its quite clear (from every early on) as to what will happen and what will be the ultimate endgame. That’s not to say that movie was enjoyable and fun to watch as I was completely engrossed in the narrative and presentation, but I kind had some notion of where the movie would end on (even if I didn’t know the real-life history of the rivalry and / or of the Le Mans race in 66’). There’s also the film’s lengthy runtime, which clocks in at around 152 minutes (two hours and thirty-two minutes). To be honest, the movie doesn’t necessarily drag that much, but it just feels quite long and maybe a certain aspects and sequences could’ve been trimmed down and / or removed for a tighter presentation.

There’s also the dramatic “poetic license” that the movie takes with some of its characters. Of course, being a feature that’s “based on true story”, the narrative and some of its characters needed to be a little bit cinematically “spiced up” to make the movie more intriguing. So, what is reality or fiction is a little blurred, but some parts are easy to spot as to what was made up for the movie’s presentation or rather exaggerated a bit. Of course, I’m not asking for an honest and true adaption of the actual events, but you know what I mean. Lastly (and this is a minor point of criticism), the film’s ending piece (taking place after the big third act race) seems a bit unnecessary and could’ve ended ten minutes prior. I won’t spoil it, but it’s kind of like the ending of Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. There’s a good stopping point where the film could’ve ended, but continues forward and ends up producing several scenes at the feature’s end that feel redundant and could’ve been told in during the ending text portion of what happened after the film’s events.

Of course, along with the film’s direction by Mangold and the sheer veracity of racing, Ford v Ferrari also excels in the cast, with many (if not all) of the selected acting talents in the movie turning some fine performances in their respective character roles. Of course, the film is held together by its “star power”, which is led by actors Matt Damon and Christian Bale in their lead roles of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. First, Damon, known for his roles in Good Will Hunting, The Departed, and The Martian, is exceptional as Carroll, an individual who has the “need for speed”, but finds those days gone by and is more of a corporate man now in the world of motor vehicles. Of course, Damon, who is a skilled actor, plays Carroll with enough grace and dignity (as well as his own drawl / swagger); adding a unique flavor to the character. Likewise, Bale, known for his roles in American Hustle, Vice, and the Dark Knight trilogy, does a terrific job as Ken, who is the more “hothead” and “renegade” of the two, but has the more potential to win any race he’s given as well as the inner workings under the hood of car. While Bale has been known to be a little bit of a “hothead” himself to work with on feature films, he usually is capable of turning a terrific character performance and does with Ken Miles and certainly commands the viewer’s attention whenever on-screen. Together, both Damon and Bale have great on-screen chemistry with each other and it passionately shows when there together in a scene; sharing the passion / drive for the love of racing cars and the determination each one shares to win. Thus, both Damon and Bale are fantastic in the movie (in their own respective rights and character portrayals), while their cinematic bond helps strengthen the feature’s friendship between Shelby and Miles beautifully.

Beyond the main duo of Damon’s Shelby and Bale’s Miles, actress Caitriona Balfe (Outlander and Money Monster) turns a fine performance as Ken Mile’s wife Mollie Miles. Naturally, I do love Balfe in the Starz’s Outlander TV series (be sure to check it out), but her performance of Mollie is a strong one and has a bit more emotional depth to the character more so than just the “concerned wife” cliché, which they movie’s script calls for. As a side-note, young actor Noah Jupe (Suburbicon and Wonder) does do a good job in the role of Peter Miles (Ken and Mollies’s son). He may get push aside in a few places, but his acting skills with many of the film’s seasoned / A-lister acting talents is well meant / matched. After them, actors Jon Bernthal (The Accountant and The Punisher) and Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama and Glory Road) play some solid roles as Ford executives Lee Iacocca and Leo Beebe. While Bernthal plays Iacocca with enough swagger and bravado, Lucas has a touch more “corporate snake-like / smarmy attitude in his portrayal of Beebe. Of course, it was what the movie wants and Lucas sells it masterfully in his talents, but it’s a bit “on the nose” in making Beebe the somewhat “bad guy” of the feature, which again is a bit of a “poetic drama license” in the film’s undertaking. Lastly, actor Tracy Letts (Lady Bird and The Big Short) gives a commanding presence as the business mogul Henry Ford II. While the character is somewhat the classic cliché of an arrogant CEO figure, Letts gleefully does a terrific job in playing that part; chewing through his snarky dialogue with great ease.

The rest of the cast, including actor Remo Girone (Infernet and Live by Night) as Italian automotive titan Enzo Ferrari, actor Ray McKinnon (Sons of Anarchy and The Blind Side) as motorsport engineer Phil Remington, actor JJ Feild (New Amsterdam and Austenland) as Ford engineer Roy Lunn, actor Jack McMullen (The Souvenir) as Charlie Agapiou, actor Benjamin Rigby (Lion and Alien: Covenant) as New Zealand race car diver / Mile’s race teammate Bruce McLaren, and professional race car driver Ben Collins as Ken’s teammate Denny Hulme, are in supporting roles with their respective characters filling out the rest of the cast in the film. While some have a bigger spotlight than others, this collective work certainly does shine, with each bringing some quality performances in their on-screen character personas.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The battle lines have been drawn and the fierce competition of two automotive titans clash on the racetrack and the 1st place victor at the 1966 Le Mans’s race in the film Ford v Ferrari. Director James Mangold latest film sees the competitive drive between the two giants of the car industry battle and mixes the story with its underlining commentary of a classic “David vs. Goliath” as well as a technical jargon / heart pounding adrenaline rush of race car (and their drivers). While the movie’s runtime is a bit excessive (could’ve bene easily trimmed down) and some characterization are a bit predictable (almost taking a certain “poetic” license) as well as minor complaint in its overall formulaic, the rest of the feature steadily finds a cinematic groove thanks to the Mangold’s direction, the intriguing story, the film’s score, the entire third act race sequence, the superb acting talents, and the true emotion of racing, winning, and corporate competition. To me, I really liked this movie. It was definitely quite an engaging feature that boasted plenty of high-octane moments (behind the wheel, of course), but also provide an entertaining narrative with some quality acting talents to play the feature’s characters. So, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “highly recommended” as its quite a crowd pleaser for movie enthusiasts and an enthralling piece of cinematic entertainment for everyone else. All in all, Ford v Ferrari stands a solid piece of filmmaking from Mangold’s collection as well as one of the finest additions to the recent sport genre of movie storytelling.

4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: November 15th, 2019
Reviewed On: December 21st, 2019

Ford v Ferrari is 152 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some language and peril

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