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Ford v Ferrari

FORD v FERRARI: VROOM OF JUSTICE is a perfectly enjoyable, kind of square and obvious, know-it-all-car-guy underdog racing picture. It has been widely described as a “dad movie,” and sure enough a one-day awards season engagement drew a different crowd than I usually see at the Cinerama, with a higher contingent of gray-haired men. Everyone applauded and cackled at the sticking of it to the man, and in recognition of all the lines from the trailer. A good time was had by all.

It’s the story of Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon, TITAN A.E.), one of the only Americans to ever win the 24-hour-Le-Mans, now retired from driving due to a heart condition, making his living building and selling cars and sponsoring a racing team. Then one day he’s approached by Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal, THE ACCOUNTANT), who has convinced Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts, who also played the grouchy boss in LITTLE WOMEN and maybe other best picture nominees) that the way to make his grandpa’s car company into Not Your Grandpa’s Car Company is to build a car that beats Ferrari in Le Mans. It’s a tall order, but Shelby agrees to give it a shot and recruits his friend Ken Miles (Christian Bale, POCAHONTAS), a “difficult” automotive genius, to help develop and drive the car.

It’s a story of engineering (designing, building, testing, failing, going back to the drawing board, being inspired, solving the problem) and racing (practicing, strategizing, worrying during pit stops, fighting with engine troubles, dodging bad luck), but also business (the angry boss, the idiotic middle management). The antagonist is not so much Enzo Ferrari (actual Italian Remo Girone) as it is Ford corporate stooge Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas, STEALTH, who probly thought he could stop playing douches like this after HULK, but then fuckin Bradley Cooper came along), who’s always trying to make his mark with stupid ideas, starting with replacing Ken with a more wholesome driver.

It’s a pretty good big screen movie because it has lots of car-go-fast footage and roaring engines that vibrate in your bones. But the main appeal of this tale is that it’s simultaneously a MONEYBALL and a TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, as contradictory as that may sound. They’re these plucky small time outsiders who strut in knowing exactly what to do even though everyone thinks they’re crazy and stands around waiting to do a spit take or faint when their outrageous ideas turn out to be brilliant. But also they’re the scrappy veteran do-ers who, when the computer doesn’t figure out what’s slowing the car down, know to give each other a nod that means “these guys will shit themselves if we do the thing where we tape little pieces of yarn all over the car to test the aerodynamics or whatever and don’t explain it to them and they look at us like we’re crazy but we’re not crazy we totally know what we’re doing.”

In other words they’re geniuses. Top of the line. Top guns. Hot shots. Iron eagles. Best of the best. Best of the best part 2s. The type of guys where Ken is racing and Shelby is watching and for some reason Shelby feels the need to say out loud “Wait for it… wait for it… now” to show off that he understands the exact timing of the thing that Ken has to do… even though he’s saying it to his crew who are also genius hot shot top gun best of the bests and surely also know to wait for it and then say “now.” They just let him do it because he’s the boss.

And yet these elite automotive minds are not, you know, elites. These boys are the working man. The blue collars. Salt of the earth, boots on the ground, man on the street, hard scrabble rugged individualists rolling up their sleeves, greasing their elbows, digging in, getting ‘er done, doing the deed, making it happen, bringing home the bacon, eating the bacon, shitting out the bacon I suppose, etc. So we can all relate. Those are our guys. We know we would never be like the suits from Ford, pissing their pants when Shelby decides to drive them around at top race speed or spontaneously convince the pilot of the private jet to let him take over the controls for a sloppy landing. No, we would be like hey good job Shelbs I totally knew you weren’t gonna kill us with this reckless stunt, high five buddy.

Right: Definitely not us.

It’s very much a movie about dudes. I think Ken’s wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe, SUPER 8, ESCAPE PLAN) is the only woman in the movie. There are two scenes early on working valiantly to make her Not Just the Wife, but there’s no getting around that that’s her function in the story. She loves Ken and she’s very cool and supportive and she’s the wife character.

Damon starts the movie doing a Tommy Lee Jones impersonation, which he returns to occasionally. He chews a piece of gum like it insulted his mother. He’s used to everybody calling him “Caroll Shelby” all the time – even his doctor. Sometimes he wears a cowboy hat.

Bale gets to be English and funny. He was always great in those brooding roles, but I like him better when he’s having fun. That they laugh together about the long odds they face goes a long way to make them endearing. The friendship and hanging out seems at least as essential as the competition. Ken’s orneriness is also tempered by his relationship with his son (Noah Jupe, A QUIET PLACE), who worships racing and beams whenever his dad pays attention to him, or especially tells him to get in the car.

For sure director James Mangold (COP LAND, WALK THE LINE, 3:10 TO YUMA, writer of OLIVER & COMPANY) recognizes the parallels to his life as a commercial filmmaker who strives for integrity. Caroll Shelby just wants to do his thing, but his thing requires the money and resources of Ford. He understands that they’re just trying to sell a product, so he tries to keep them happy without violating what he wants to do. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes the things they make him do screw him over. Sometimes he’s able to convince them of his way, though he never seems to have final cut. Somewhere in there is the difference between THE WOLVERINE and LOGAN.

SPOILER: And I appreciate that in the end, when Ken reluctantly agrees to be a company man and do what they want – he gets fucked over by it. Accurate. I didn’t know shit about the real story, so I was impressed to find that the very made-up-seeming thing about Ford having him slow down so the three Fords can tie, thus causing him to lose, really was true. One thing they don’t mention is that Enzo Ferrari got his revenge at the 24 Hours of Daytona race when he had his three drivers go over the finish line together as a fuck-you. (No Fords finished.) Maybe he already had that in mind when he gave Ken a long distance nod and hat tip of respect.

Only a few years ago Bale was set to play Ferrari in a movie directed by Michael Mann, but he dropped out due to health concerns related to the necessary weight gain. So Hugh Jackman stepped in before Bale decided it was okay to gain weight for a brilliant performance in a terrible movie.

Mann is credited as a producer on FvF, so I assumed maybe it evolved out of his Ferrari movie, but apparently not – he’s still trying to make that. Meanwhile, the producer of CRASH (racism one, not car-fucking one) directed LAMBORGHINI: THE LEGEND starring Antonio Banderas.

Previous to Mangold, it was TRON LEGACY director Joseph Koskinski who developed FvF. His version would’ve starred Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and probly had a cool soundtrack. The script is by Jason Keller (ESCAPE PLAN), rewritten by Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth (EDGE OF TOMORROW, GET ON UP).

In conclusion, if you’re the kind of person who would enjoy FORD v FERRARI, I think you will enjoy FORD v FERRARI.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 29th, 2020 at 7:22 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Ford v Ferrari”

  1. Just when I think they’ve busted out the least interesting movie premise possible, they hit me with some “Will two handsome white guys be able to help a rich asshole win a dick-measuring contest by making a car go faster than the car owned by another rich asshole?” shit. Holy fuck. They might as well have called it MAJESTYK REPELLANT: THE MOTION PICTURE.

    If any of you enjoyed this, I apologize. It’s probably my fault. I never had a dad, you guys. Nobody ever taught me how to get weepy over the sight of Historical Men Doing Historical Man Things.

  2. I liked it because it was nice to see a pretty feel good movie with what are really just low stakes. I saw it with my in laws and they’re all into cars, especially my brother in law who even owns a Shelby so they really enjoyed it. It would be like if I actually got a half way decent movie about pro wrestling. It’s probably niche in reality but it’s nice that it exists.

    Did this movie get any nominations other than probably sound?

    On a side note, I’m really sorry that I’ve been the asshole this whole time.

  3. I’m actually on your side, Majestyk. Well, I’m not disgusted by it or something, but from the first announcement this movie was nothing but a shrug for me and I really didn’t know what was going on when, after the trailer hit, I heard way too many people saying that they were actually excited for the movie and it seemed to them like the biggest must-see of the year. To me it just looked and sounded like the least interesting biopic topic since MICHAEL KEATON IS MCDONALDS.

  4. I really miss the IDKJBWGBIT label. Do you suppose that moment in movie history has passed now? He really was pretty obvious in the trailer.

  5. I’m not the biggest car guy but I had a mild interest in this story. Then I learned James Mangold directed it and that killed my interest.

  6. Looking at his filmography I think he’s batting about .500. That’s not a bad percentage for a journeyman director? Should journeymen directors have a higher batting average?

  7. Directed LOGAN, he’s gotta work to gain my trust back. I enjoyed his 3:10 TO YUMA remake.

  8. Just to balance out the comments, my dad was a car guy and a racing fan and that rubbed off on me growing up, so I was otherworldly excited for this movie. And yeah, because: vroom, crash, men, tears, 1960s, cowboy hat, etc. Sadly, my dad passed away a couple years back now, and seeing, and loving, this movie made me wish I had been able to see it with him. He was British too, so there was an extra layer. Anyway, I get how for most people the subject matter couldn’t be of less interest to them, but for me…holy hell did this movie ever hit the nail right on the head.

  9. Majestyk – Well, I’m not gonna try to talk you into it, but it’s worth noting that I’m not into that shit either and apparently Mangold is not a car or racing guy. I think that’s why it works pretty well for me, because his emphasis is on the people – it never feels like he thinks this shit is Important.

    Sternshein – Yeah, it was nominated for best picture! I have a friend who has convinced me it might even win by being everyone’s third choice on the ballot. (I haven’t heard anyone else argue that.)

    Borg9 – I’m afraid I don’t remember what that stands for, and it’s not coming up in Google. If you remind me maybe I will correct my oversight.

    geoffreyjar – ha ha, I think like most people my respect for him went up about 12 notches specifically because of LOGAN.

  10. Vern – My guess is that Borg9’s thing is supposed to be “I didn’t know Jon Bernthal was gonna be in this” but I could be wrong.

  11. Sorry to’ve been so oblique, and facetious, but yes Dtroyt is correct. Vern, I am almost sure you made up an image of Bernthal with IDKJBWGBIT on it for such occasions.

    I guess it’s a measure of how far Bernthal has come that it seems unbelievable now.

  12. OK, so that didn’t work, but see THE ACCOUNTANT:

  13. OK, just out of interest, what’s the basis of the antipathy towards Logan in some quarters here?

  14. This movie sounds insufferable.

  15. It’s not.

  16. I’m with Borg9. THE ACCOUNTANT is inexplicably awesome.

  17. Shan – it’s the nihilism. Here’s what I said on the review for it:

    So, you can have money, power, respect, drive, purpose and true and deep connections with loved ones, but it’s all for nothing? You still end up in the Mexican desert in a tipped over silo living in conditions worse than a state run nursing home as a burden to your loved ones. And this the best case scenario because your failing body and mind could kill a bunch of innocent people, which you’ve already done. Maybe even your own loved ones, because, evidently, they’re all dead. They’re all dead and the mission you worked your entire adult life for failed. Then in a last hurrah, before you die a pitiable death, you lead your enemies to a kind and innocent family who gets slaughtered. Jesus Christ. As if the world isn’t shitty enough right now without this message floating around in my head all weekend.

  18. Oh yeah, of course! Yes, I did indeed know Jon Bernthal was gonna be in this. No surprise this time. I also know that he’s gonna be in the upcoming Taylor Sheridan movie where Angelina Jolie is a badass ex-firefighter who protects a teenage murder witness from psychotic twin murderers and a forest fire, a.k.a. my new favorite movie of all time.

  19. As a former car guy, and the son of a dead car guy who did actual, for real zoom-zoom racing, I have to agree with Majestyk. At this point in cinematic history, maybe, just maybe, it’s time to get past the “Look at what these white dudes could do with nigh-unlimited resources! Wow, they went a whole .25 seconds a lap faster than the other white dude with nigh-unlimited resources! Whoda thunk it?!!”

    I mean, there are a couple of racing movies I really enjoy. Grand Prix for one, because James Garner that’s why. And it also was a fairly accurate, if soapy, depiction of Formula 1 in the early ’60s. Le Mans as well, which is just pure race movie with no pesky plot or characterizations to get in the way. And it was an accurate depiction of sports car racing in the early ’70s.

    But this movie strikes me as little more than nostalgia-wank. At a time when we need to be looking past cars, unless you enjoy an unlivable planet, glorifying the damn things and the corporations that lied to us about their negative impacts is a very shitty (if very Hollywood) thing to do.

  20. I really have to take more time and post more clearly, as I seem to’ve been misunderstood twice in these comments. All my fault.

    We have cleared up the John Bernthal acronym issue, but my recommendation of THE ACCOUNTANT was primarily to highlight that Vern’s review of it features an image of Bernthal labelled IDKJBWGBIT. It was the first movie I checked in Vern’s catalogue of the Bernthalography. SICARIO and BABY DRIVER were gonna be next.

    Mr. M, I am, nevertheless, happy to accept your endorsement of my, not entirely intentional, recommendation of THE ACCOUNTANT. It is awesome, Bernthal particularly so.

    And yeah, THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD sounds great, which feels like an odd thing to say about a movie with Tyler Perry in it.

    Anyway, let’s spread that positivity!

  21. I found this watchable but dull, the film equivalent of one of those 60s songs you know and hear often, but neither like nor dislike and would never choose to put on. Bale is a bit much in it too; even in that thumbnail! I’m absolutely not a car guy either (not even a big FAST AND FURIOUS fan) but RUSH managed to get me far more invested in this world, and I never would have guessed a Howard joint would succeed for me where a Mangold wouldn’t (big COPLAND fan), but there you go.

    Really dug KEATON: PORTRAIT OF A McDONALDS though.

  22. IndianaJonesAndTheInfernalMachine

    January 30th, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    Fun factoid: the true villain of this whole thing was McLaren – yes, the same one who soon later became the car jizzlionaire. Beebe was supportive of both Shelby and Miles. McLaren, who knew how the whole photo finish was supposed to go and look, kept going behind Miles, then accelerated seconds before crossing the line, to push ahead of Miles at the last moment, and out of his sight and suspicion.

  23. Indy: One slight clarification. Bruce McLaren himself never became a jizzilionaire, as he died in 1970 at the age of 32. His team and the McLaren car company, however, did become a monolith in later years.

  24. Can we all agree that John Bernthal was awesome as Punisher in the 2-season Netflix series? I loved him in that, and the series itself was very good as well. Not to even mention Daredevil, which is probably the best of all TV Superhero series, and Punisher had a major role in Season 2. That prison fight massacre Kingpin forced him to do? Holy shit. Netflix was doing so many great things with the Marvel universe, that it’s a real disappointment the rights returned to Marvel/Disney. They are never going to repeat the edgy, hard-hitting stuff that Netflix did. Never. And it’s a shame.

  25. Josh Lucas, STEALTH, who probly thought he could stop playing douches like this after HULK, but then fuckin Bradley Cooper came along

    I’m pretty sure the correct name is “Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN)”. I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

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