Sunday, December 08, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in the highly enjoyable FORD V FERRARI (2019). It's old-fashioned entertainment in the best sense of the term, with strong performances and a straightforward yet very interesting story.

Demanding, cranky Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is concerned about the future of his company. Ford exec Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) pitches the idea that the company needs "sexier" cars, along the lines of European race cars.

When Ford's attempt to purchase Italian auto maker Ferrari fails, Ford determines that his company will build their own race cars, with the goal of winning the 24-hour race at Le Mans. Carroll Shelby (Damon) is tapped to design the car, and Shelby in turn recruits driver Ken Miles (Bale) to work with him on the development.

Uptight executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) doesn't want Miles to race the car as he fears the unpredictable, irascible Miles would not be a good public "face" for the Ford company. Ford loses at Le Mans, but when Henry Ford commits to continuing with the project, Shelby is able to bring Miles back on board; together they work toward winning the 1966 Le Mans, with Miles behind the wheel.

Depending on one's interests, the thumbnail plot sketch above may or may not sound like a particularly exciting film, particularly for a movie that runs a long 2 hours and 32 minutes. I'm happy to report that it's a highly engrossing film which stands up to the long running time; it could have maybe trimmed five minutes but I think the filmmakers did an excellent job taking the time to tell as complete a story as possible while holding the audience's attention throughout.

The film is rich in characterizations, with Bale a standout as the British-born Miles. It's a fully rounded performance which feels deeply authentic; Miles is hot-tempered and finds it near impossible to suffer fools gladly, but he's also exceptionally talented and a devoted husband to Mollie (Caitriona Balfe of TV's OUTLANDER) and father to Peter (Noah Jupe). I don't believe I'd seen Bale in anything since LITTLE WOMEN (1994), and I thought he was Oscar-worthy.

This isn't to short Damon as the calmer Shelby, who's able to walk the line between playing the corporate political game and engaging on a more realistic, down-to-earth level with his team. Damon successfully carries much of the film on his shoulders and is always excellent. I particularly enjoyed the make-or-break scene where he pitches Ford on why the company has Ferrari "where we want them."

Balfe is likewise terrific as Miles' wife, who is willing to live with her man's love for a dangerous profession. A scene where she takes Miles on the ride of his life, infuriated that he's held back telling her about Ford's offer, is another memorable sequence.

I've previously enjoyed director James Mangold's Johnny Cash bio WALK THE LINE (2005), which I felt had a similarly authentic feel. Mangold also directed the entertaining but entirely cartoonish Tom Cruise film KNIGHT AND DAY (2010).

The cast of FORD V FERRARI also includes Ray McKinnon, Jack McMullen, JJ Feild, and Remo Girone. The movie was filmed by Phedon Papamichael. Racing special effects are excellent and, in a way, subtle, in that the viewer doesn't think about the ingenuity required to depict these sequences in such thrilling fashion. That's a mark of outstanding effects work.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. It's a comparatively mild PG-13, mainly due to profanity. Car wrecks are suspenseful but non-graphic. On the plus side, the film emphasizes dedication, hard work, and (in the Miles family) strong family relationships.

Thoughts from other reviewers I enjoy: Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who picked the film as his favorite of 2019, says it's "made the way Hollywood used to make them, a glorious throwback that combines a smart modern sensibility with the best of traditional storytelling." Leonard Maltin says FORD V FERRARI "has no ambition except to entertain, and it does so exceedingly well. That’s not something I take for granted...It’s rare to find a mainstream Hollywood film that works on so many levels."

A trailer is here.


Blogger barrylane said...

I cannot believe that I will see this thing, but I will. All the reviews make it clear that Ford v Ferrari is like, at least in its approach to storytelling, like the lovely films of our revered past.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I would be most interested to know what you think of it, Barrylane. I hope you will enjoy it!

Best wishes,

8:10 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I'm really looking forward to this film. I like classic cars so this is a no-brainer for me. Another good movie about racing is Rush (2013) about the James Hunt/Niki Lauda rivalry which I'd also call old-fashioned in its approach to its subject. Really recommended.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Margot! I'm unfamiliar with RUSH and will put it on my list of movies to check out. I appreciate the tip!

Hope you enjoy FORD V FERRARI, would be interested to know your thoughts as a fan of classic cars.

Best wishes,

10:15 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Damon was breathtaking as shel.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous charlieod said...

336 Critic Reviews + 1 : Laura’s. Only one I’m going to read.
Short and to the point, excellent as always.
Thank you Laura

11:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm honored. Thank you for your confidence in my review and for reading! Hope you enjoy the film.

Best wishes,

11:50 PM  

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