Making quite the switch in gears from his critical and financial game-changer, 2017’s “Logan”, Director James Mangold has now decided to tackle an inspiring, true American story. Set in 1966, when the Ford motor company decided to enter the 24 hours of Le Mans, one of the fiercest races in the world at that time, in attempt to overthrow the reigning champion, Ferrari. Ford then recruits former Le Mans champion, Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon), and his team including stubborn driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale, looking like an actual human this time around) to build the ultimate race car.
“Ford v Ferrari” follows an old school formula that, while nothing exceptional or particularly new, makes for an entertaining time. Running at a beefy 152 minutes, “Ford v Ferrari” does a fine job of balancing its two best aspects, the characters and the riveting racing sequences. With much of the first act dedicated to setting up the scenario with endless meetings and conferences, it’s impressive the film never bores. Much of the credit goes to editors Andrew Buckland and Michael McCusker for keeping the film chugging along at a reasonable pace. The racing sequences in particular are a technical achievement with the editing being one of the shining factors. The challenge everyone behind the scenes must’ve faced in recreating a race in which the track is no longer around, must’ve been a daunting task. Dealing with consistently moving pieces and continuity issues would seem like a nightmare, but “Ford v Ferrari” is always clear in who is where and where every car is placed, making the action sequences that much more effective.
Much lighter than his previous work including “Logan”, “Walk the Line” and Girl, Interrupted”, director James Mangold holds a firm grip on the material. Never spending too much time in the monotony of building the car, Mangold allows casual viewers more unfamiliar with the ins and outs of automobiles to follow along without getting caught up in the specifics. Mangold also wisely frames each race with beautiful clarity. Reportedly using minimal CGI, the races are often shot with nice wide shots from the perspective of Bale’s character, further immersing us in the action. These sequences truly are worth the price of admission alone. Combining both the realism and Mangold’s visual eye to create some of the most spectacular racing sequences ever put to film. The last third taking place at Le Mans is everything you would want in a film like this. Obviously this is a film made to be experienced with the biggest screen and the best sound system possible.
“Ford v Ferrari” doesn’t forget about its main characters, though. Although there are some occasional races and training sequences early on, the majority of the racing is saved for the last third of the film, giving us time to spend with the characters. Matt Damon and Christian Bale are both exceptional giving some of their most natural performances. Their chemistry with one another is infectious, with both men playing off each other nicely. Their bond is an essential element of “Ford v Ferrari” and it works overwhelmingly. Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe are both quite strong as Ken’s family, getting more to do than you would initially think. Jon Bernthal brings his usual charisma as Lee Iacocca and Tracy Letts steals several scenes as the hefty, Henry Ford II.
It’s the missed opportunities that mostly keep “Ford v Ferrari” from achieving overall greatness. The script is ultimately too formulaic and uneven to truly pop. Josh Lucas makes a welcoming return to big budget fare, but his take on Leo Beebe is overtly cliche and over-the-top, causing more eye rolls than anything. Elements of characters back stories are introduced, only to never get brought up again. The film opens with Shelby recovering from a nightmare about his racing days, indicating his suffers from PTSD, but that element is soon forgotten. The films last minute attempts at tear-jerker territory also falls flat, ending the film on a weak note.
You don’t have to be a car aficionado to enjoy “Ford v Ferrari”. It’s an inspiring and occasionally thrilling true story that will entertain most every crowd. It may only be consistently workmanlike outside of the performances and exceptional racing sequences, but this is an earnest, good-hearted film. It’s old fashioned sensibilities are sure to be catnip for most dads out there and is more than likely to find infinite airings on TNT.