Directed By James Mangold
Starring – Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe
The Plot – American car designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Bale) battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.
Rated PG-13 for some adult language and peril
– Production details. This is a film that takes place in 1966, yet doesn’t require the heavy handed quality of beating us over the head with such a presentation that is distracting to the pivotal pieces surrounding it. Instead, Mangold disperses an occasional reminder every so often, lie a dated magazine or grocery design that better helps illustrate the designated time frame. For coloring texture, it’s the sunbaked cinematography of Phedon Papamichael, who has an experimental side of expression shooting visuals classics like “Walk the Line”, “Nebraska”, or “A Beautiful Day”. Phedon’s subtly easily immerses us in the transformation of the era without requiring the desperation of saturated imagery to sell his point, instead letting the toys themselves in the foreground do the talking in giving us an alluring seduction to the automobiles of yesterday. In that regard, the Ford and Ferrari 60’s models are made from the very same scrap metal that is no longer found on cars, as well as a faithful curvature of the car’s framing that accentuates detail right down to the very tee of what Miles took with him across the finish line.
– Fluffy pacing. This is a movie that is nearly two-and-a-half hours long, yet never grinds its gears in presenting an intoxicating narrative. The reason for that is because the first two acts of the movie is constantly moving, taking us through the backstory of the race itself, in addition to the many real life dramatic circumstances that Miles and Shelby dealt with in partnering with a major corporation like Ford. I was surprised to find that when I checked my watch for the first time, there was only 25 minutes left in the movie, acting as a testament to the script’s ability to allow its audience to get lost in these characters, as well as the education lesson given to anyone like me, who knows so little about automobile education. For my money, this film could even afford another twenty minutes on fleshing out its antagonists, as well as diving a little deeper on a gut-wrenching finale that lays everything on the line. It’s definitely one of the easier two hour plus watches that I have had in 2019, and cements a testament to Mangold as a storyteller who knows what avenues to travel to keep audiences invested within the heat of the complexity.
– Surprising special effects. There aren’t many that are especially obvious, but the seamless inclusion of an eye-stretching crowd, as well as some computer generated tricks used on the track, prove that foreign properties to the live action dimension are anything but lifeless. In fact, there’s only one scene in the film, where a plane lands on a runway, that stood out as a bit cheap in its rendering for me. Aside from this, the proximity of the consistency of camera angles used, as well as proper coloring establishment with its live action surroundings, exceeded believability, and nearly fooled me into thinking that Mangold called on thousands of extras to line its rows of stadium seating. These give the film a big budget quality of attention that lesser filmmakers don’t spend nearly enough time on, and overall it’s proof computer generation, when done right, can have an impactful effect on materializing the proper influence that adds to instead of overrides.
– Musical depth. Hats off to musical composer Marco Beltrami for channeling no shortage of musical genre’s nor instruments in conjuring the proper urgency needed to push these racing sequences to suffocating levels of claustrophobic tension. In the first act, Beltrami uses a lot of jazz drums and increasing rhythmic pulse to give the atmosphere a level of ambition, all the while paying homage to the Motown presence that accompanies so much of the film’s consistent setting. In the second act, he switches it up by instilling a classic rock vibe of electric guitar’s and piano to enhance the natural quality of fast-paced racing, granting it an underlying presence that shifts and shakes almost in mirror comparison to the cars that dominate the visual capacity. By the final act, Marco throws what he can at the studio recording, producing a twisting quartet of range that persists with increasing volume like a screwing coming undone in the most unnerving way. I’m usually not a big fan of Beltrami’s scores for their practicality and obviousness to the films they accompany, but something like a racing film works so efficiently for him, if even just for the way he incorporates much of the audible flavor that was present with the particular time frame.
– Informative. Everything in the film is factually based, with regards to the developments of behind-the-scenes aspects that only a movie could bring forth, but what’s compelling is how deep the dive of privacy entails. Not only does this film invade the thick walls of the Ford elite, illustrating its bureaucracy inside with an elaboration of the story’s real antagonists, but it also vividly depicts the kind of faltering science associated with car building. In fact, no other racing movie has ever fruitfully portrayed the annoying-but-inspiring process of deconstructing something so permanently established, and reshaping it in a way that extends its lifespan tenfold because of the passionate team behind it. This screenplay has a love for the most intimate of details, and values their importance in a way that will provide even a few surprising revelations for even the most hardcore of automobile enthusiasts.
– Enthralling sequences. Without a question the most valuable positive of the movie is Mangold’s near perfect direction of shot composition versatility that puts us so close to the action that we nearly feel the heat from the engines pushing themselves in unnatural methods to win. Instead of using shaking camera effects that have become a staple of action movie cinema used to illustrate energy, James instead takes a consistent approach of using wide angle, semi-long take shots, where the cars move in and out of frame with such velocity that it nearly becomes a three-dimensional gimmick for how close they reside. In addition to this, there’s a healthy compromise of bumper point-of-view shots so immersive that we the audience nearly feel the wind blowing through our hair at the ever-changing landscapes emerging and diminishing before our very eyes. It presents the closest possible depiction of being in the driver’s seat without it being an outright first person movie, and thanks to the fine balance of experimentation used to literally drive its points home, the film presents many riveting exchanges where it feels like vulnerability is a character within the movie of so many characters playing with such high stakes.
– Characterization. This movie has tons of it. Aside from investing valuable minutes in its duo of central protagonists, the film outlines everyone from Henry Ford himself, to supporting pit crew members, and especially most important, the Miles family themselves, who are among my favorite characters in the movie. The screenplay has such a respect for these many emotionally diverse people, spending time to flesh out their fears and ambitions in a way that makes us feel like we’ve known and watched them grow for years. What’s important is no two characters are ever the same in personality or speech demeanor, proving that screenwriters Jez Butterworth and Jason Keller provided emphasis in their importance to the story. It offers no defining weak spots of scenes where our favorite characters are away from the camera, and keeps our interests at consistent highs throughout, because they’ve each had their examples to shine in the brightest ways possible.
– Complete cast. Bale gives another transformative performance, emoting Ken with a combination of neurotic intelligence and heartfelt family-man compassion that really presents two alluring sides of the racer’s personality. Damon as well shines with a southern drawl consistency and endless charisma that makes Shelby stand out as so much more than a pioneer of an assembly line, but also as a human being who valued the friendship with Miles so much that he often went to war because of it. Aside from this talented duo, Tracy Letts gives off a mafia-head vibe as the CEO of the biggest automobile company on the planet, Josh Lucas chews up atmosphere as this detestably vile Leo Beebe, and Jon Bernthal resides as the visionary Iacocca, who constructed the pieces that were pivotal to a war nobody thought was possible. Without a doubt, however, it’s Caitriona Balfe who stole the show for me as Mollie Miles. Mollie exudes the same intelligence that her husband has, but has a delightfully pleasant cynicism to her character that often sees moves being made a mile ahead of everyone else, often making her feel like the driver in the marriage. Her scenes with Bale feel so naturally convincing, and Balfe’s influence on the film doesn’t go unnoticed, giving us plenty of laughs along the way of the unfolding madness. During an age when men were at the forefront of many relationships and careers, it’s Caitriona’s Mollie that takes one step forward.
– Dated establishing. There is no on-screen text throughout the film, often making it difficult to distinguish how much time has passed, unless a character conveniently mentions it in informative dialogue. Why this is a problem for me is it not only adds unnecessary difficult in conveying to the audience the urgency of the situation of building a revolutionary car in such a brief period of time, but it also makes it a chore to comprehend just how much time has passed along the way. The film flashes forward through lengthy amounts of time so unceremoniously that it outlines a convoluted method of storytelling where simplicity should’ve been the intended measure used to maximize the importance of time. Without it, six months passing feels every bit the same as six days.
– Lack of Ferrari. Without including the side of our Italian rivals, the film unfortunately falls under the category of American propaganda, with a villain character that might as well be a shadowy corporation. It attains that level of ignorance because of its long span of time that passes before we see them again, and when we do see them, it’s only to sneer at the screen to remind us that they are bad, and America good. This is easily where the film could use even more time to commentate their side of the story. Without it, the title, “Ford V Ferrari” is a one-sided battle where only one side is important to the complexion and convenience of the narrative.
My Grade: 8/10 or A-