With the Toronto and Venice film festivals now in our rear view mirror, the race is on toward the Oscars and the other big film award events. One of the contenders this year is FORD V FERRARI, which recounts the story of when the American car company took on its Italian rival for racing supremacy.
The year is 1963 and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts, LADY BIRD; ELVIS & NIXON; WIENER-DOG; THE BIG SHORT) wants to energise the culture at the automobile company that bears his family’s name. He tasks his executives with coming up with new and exciting ideas, and company vice-president, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal, WIDOWS; BABY DRIVER; WIND RIVER; ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL), who would later go on to turn around Chrysler’s fortunes in the 1980s, pitches that the car company should get into racing. Ford agrees and after failing to buy Ferrari, he decides to go to war against the Italian car company that spurned him by directing his racing car division led by Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas, BOYCHOIR) to build a car that can win the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. To do that, Ford hires American performance car designer and engineer, Carroll (“Shel”) Shelby (Matt Damon, THOR: RAGNAROK; SUBURBICON; DOWNSIZING; THE MARTIAN), who, in turn, hires British driver and mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale, VICE; THE BIG SHORT; EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS; AMERICAN HUSTLE). But Miles’ loose cannon approach is at odds with Beebe’s button-down style and it’s up to Shelby to keep both men happy and out of each other’s way as they build a car (the GT40) that will challenge Ferrari’s best (the 330 P3).
FORD V FERRARI is certainly a crowd-pleasing joyride but don’t look too closely under the hood. While it is essentially a story about two men who were driven (no pun intended) to make racing history, screenwriter brothers John-Henry and Jez Butterworth along with Jason Keller don’t deliver anything more than a formulaic tale of man vs. machine and the little guy vs. corporate America with Beebe being its one-dimensional bad guy. A couple of subplots – Shelby’s health and Miles’ financial woes – get introduced only to get jettisoned faster than an overweight car part. Fortunately, the film also includes a number of high-octane racing sequences and crashes but they are neither terribly spectacular nor as adrenaline-pumping as the film’s trailer would indicate. By the fifth time we see Miles red-lining it to 7,000 rpms, the thrill is most definitely gone. A bit more creativity from director James Mangold (LOGAN; 3:10 TO YUMA; WALK THE LINE) in shooting these scenes would have gone a long way.
Damon and Bale have good on-screen chemistry but neither seems to be stretching their acting talents very far. At least Bale, who comes from Wales, puts on what is supposed to be a Birmingham accent, but aside from one scene where the two men take swings at each other while Miles’ wife, Mollie (Caitriona Balfe, TV’s OUTLANDER), pulls up a chair to watch, there’s not a lot of dramatic action going on between the two characters as the story pits them against the suits at Ford.
While racing car enthusiasts will no doubt be cheering this STP-fueled blast from the past, I’m not sure many others will do anything more than shrug and give a half-smile. FORD V. FERRARI is enjoyable entertainment but it’s not going to take home any big awards.
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