“Ford v Ferrari” review by Alex and Nate Blake

NATE:

Ford v Ferrari (Le Mans 66 in Europe) tells the story of how driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) were commissioned by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to build a car that could beat Ferrari at the 24 hours of Le Mans. This movie is a must see for anyone fascinated by racing and automotive history; the cast also features Jon Bernthal as Lee Iacocca and Josh Lucas as Leo Beebe. It’s also a movie about cars and racing that you can love even if the aforementioned names mean nothing to you. This is a great buddy movie and just a well made old-school epic (in style at least). It was nice to finally see one of those this year. Tarantino may have attempted a cool 60s throwback with Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, but he gave into his worst impulses with that final act. Here, director James Mangold and screenwriters Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller succeed at both taking the audience back in time and delivering an ending that is fitting and meaningful. The Oscars may very well nominate Brad and Leo for their work in Tarantino’s film instead of Bale and Damon’s work in Ford V Ferrari, but when was the last time Oscars could be taken seriously anyway? Oh I do talk a big, anti-Oscar game this time every year, but I’m also quietly crafting the cheese and wine menu for our annual viewing already. Why can’t I quit them?

ALEX:

You can’t quit them because you live with me. But, that is a discussion for another time. I am not what I would call a racing fan. However, I still absolutely loved this film. I loved the old Hollywood feeling that James Mangold was able to capture while still not allowing the film to feel outdated. He was really able to create a nostalgic feeling throughout. I agree that the screenwriters were a big part of what worked. This isn’t a film that just talks at you. It really feels like the characters are inviting you into the story. I really enjoyed the supporting cast. Josh Lucas always plays a great asshole villain. This part was no exception. Jon Bernthal also gives a great performance. However, in my opinion, it is Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II that really steals the show.

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NATE:

I also really enjoyed Tracy Letts. The film is even funnier than the trailer suggested, and everyone in the cast deserves some credit for that, but it’s Letts who earns the biggest laughs. Bale and Damon are both fantastic here, and yes, they are both lead performances. Damon has not been this good in years, and Bale skillfully avoids any choice that could turn Miles into the hot-headed driver cliché we’ve seen so many times before. There’s a quiet confidence even to his most rebellious scenes.

ALEX:

I also thoroughly enjoyed Bale and Damon’s performances. I was a little skeptical when I read that they were both submitting their work for lead actor awards consideration. However, they both really are lead performances. The story is just as much about Carroll Shelby as it is Ken Miles. With most other films, I might be a little hesitant about two leads. But it really works for this one. In my opinion, Bale does give the stronger performance. He plays this character in such a controlled way.

NATE:

The writing is also superb. One of the things I loved is how the plot unfolds slowly for about the first half. The script focuses on exposition and character development much longer than even most historical films would. Structure and pacing wise, I would compare it to Seabiscuit, where we are slowly introduced to several separate lives before they come together around the midpoint. That said, Ford v Ferrari is a better film than Seabiscuit, which couldn’t help but occasionally view the Great Depression through hokey “Gee, isn’t America really great after all” lenses.

ALEX:

I think the slow way this story unfolds really is one of its greatest strengths. It really allows the viewer to develop a relationship with the characters and become really invested in what they are trying to accomplish. There were multiple times throughout that I had to remind myself that I was in a theater full of people and it would be inappropriate to cheer.

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NATE:

This is an inspiring story about America’s past, but it also refuses to soften the rougher edges of Henry Ford II and the capitalist system he represents. He’s a man who reigns over a castle metaphorically built with red tape (and red file folders) and who uses ethnic slurs to refer to the executives at Ferrari. After seeing the film, I’m annoyed that some critics have disparaged it by saying it has a 1950s/1960s mindset. They are free to their interpretations, but much like Mad Men, it simply depicts the mindset and behaviors of the era. The ending is proof that it is critical of at least some of what we see on screen, and it certainly ties into ongoing socio-economic discussions.

ALEX:

I get really annoyed with the argument that films created about a certain era need to pass the societal standards we have today. I think Mad Men is a really good comparison here. What is on screen feels authentic for the 50s and 60s. Of course times are different now, but that does not mean we should avoid presenting history as it was.

NATE:

I do find it interesting, and unfortunate, that racing films are generally about white dudes. I don’t mind that the filmmakers chose to tell this story and I don’t have many issues with the way they told it, but even in America in the 1950s and 1960s, black drivers such as Wendell Scott were helping shape the sport of auto racing. Their stories would make great films and Hollywood needs to get on that.

Though there is plenty of racing action in the film, which I will talk about more later on, the writers know that some of the most interesting parts of this story happened in garages, yards, parks and living rooms. Given the time period being depicted, it’s not surprising that almost all of the characters are men. This is not a film that has any chance of passing the Bechdel test, which you could probably tell from the trailer. Yet Mollie Miles (Caitriona Balfe) has a much bigger presence than I expected and I appreciated the effort the writers took to explore the Miles’ marriage. Don’t expect Eric and Tami from Friday Night Lights, but the script does Mollie more justice than most male writing teams would have.

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ALEX:

While this film uses racing as its vehicle (pun intended), this movie is about so much more: friendship, family, legacy, pride, and responsibility. While the racing aspect of this film is really interesting, I think the more interesting part are the relationships that we see develop on screen. Caitriona Balfe, as Mollie Miles, is a big part of that. Her and Ken’s relationship is complex and she plays a key part in the story.  Aside from her though, there are very few women in this film. But, given the time, the story, and the industry being profiled, that is not very shocking. However, I do wish there was more racial representation. This is a white men’s story told by white men.

NATE:

Okay, now we need to talk about the technical aspects, which are top notch. The racing sequences are the best I’ve seen, ever. I remember how impressed I was when Ron Howard’s Rush was released. I still recommend seeing that film, but Mangold has created something even more intense and more straightforward with these racing sequences. To be fair, he had a bigger budget, but holy crap. You have to see this on the big screen. We saw it at our local theater on an average size screen, but we’re considering taking a drive to see it in IMAX. The sound team also deserves all the awards this season.

ALEX:

I am very much looking forward to seeing this in IMAX. The racing sequences were so fun to watch. I agree that the sound team also deserves some recognition. This film had the potential to be too noisy. They were able to strike a nice balance between silence and the revving engines.

NATE:

I did think the score was one weak point. Most of the music in the film is popular music from the era, which is quite often effective, but the score honestly sounded like a half-hearted version of what Hans Zimmer did with his great, very underrated work on Rush. I expected the score to be a major character here and it just wasn’t. It’s a minor complaint, and Mangold often makes the choice to just let the roar of engines be the soundtrack. Considering what score is present I would prefer if there wasn’t one.

ALEX:

I agree that the score was quite lackluster. It wasn’t terrible, but it also isn’t one I will still be listening to at this time next year. I thoroughly enjoyed everything else about this film though and I feel completely comfortable in my decision to say that this is the best film I have seen so far this year. Even if you aren’t a racing fan, I think everyone can find something to enjoy in this masterfully crafted and visually stunning story.

NATE:

Please see this film. Please support well-made, big-budget, studio backed dramas. If you don’t want all of Hollywood’s money going in to Marvel and DC and Star Wars and animated sequels, then show up for films like this. When the checkered flag waves on 2019. expect Ford v Ferrari to finish inside my year-end top 10.

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