Current Issue #478

Film Review:
Ford V Ferrari

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford V Ferrari
Matt Damon and Christian Bale

Producer/director James Mangold’s lavishly detailed and overlong drama about the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari is perhaps the most testosterone-drenched movie in recent cinematic history.

Mangold (who’s best-known for big movies about blokes from Cop Land to Logan) wanted to make an epic based upon this story for years, and nearly got it going a while back with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

Instead, we have Matt Damon and Christian Bale in the lead roles, and their clash of performing styles is immediately apparent. Damon’s quiet, amiable underplaying and gentle Texan humour might not set the awards circuit on fire in the same way as Bale’s ‘great acting’-type weight loss (some 70 pounds after chunking up to play Dick Cheney in Vice) and showy Cockney accent, but, nevertheless, Damon upstages him.

Their antagonistic bromance also recalls Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s manly devotion in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, as does the gorgeous attention to period recreation, from the 60s fashions and hairdos, to the boardrooms and carpets, to the Coke bottles and supposedly sexy cars themselves. The theme to I Dream Of Jeannie is a bit of an anachronism – but only just.

Back in 1963, Ford Motor Company Vice President Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) proposes purchasing the struggling Ferrari company to Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts, whose best scene is deceptively given away in this one’s trailer), a man who doesn’t want to divert from what he sees as a winning American formula because James Bond is “a degenerate” and, as it’s virtually stated outright, he’s a racist and refuses to deal with Italians. Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) goes with Fiat instead, after cursing the Yanks via an interpreter, so an enraged Ford orders the building of a car to defeat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the company is forced to enlist Shelby Automobiles owner Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his controversial pick as right-hand man, Ken Miles (Bale).

We’ve already been lengthily introduced to Shelby and Ken by this point, with the former seen winning Le Mans in 1959, accidentally being set on fire for a moment and then compelled to retire due to heart problems, and Ken depicted as a racing driver with lots of audience-pleasing disrespect for authority and severe issues with the IRS. They make quite a team while developing the GT40 Mk I and II, even if much time is wasted with their endless fighting, including a full-on slappy brawl which the players obviously loved to do, and which Ken’s wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) watches wearily from a deckchair.

Several years pass (the film’s chronology is a touch unclear), smarmy Ford Senior Vice President Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) takes over the racing division, the guys spar and posture and snarl at each other amid oodles of wobbly exposition, and we build to the 1966 Le Mans, a final act sequence which seems to last as long as the 24 hours of the event’s title. And yet director Mangold and his three credited screenwriters (Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller) almost keep the proceedings exciting and suspenseful enough, even if you’ve already Googled what actually happened and who won.

Not a motor racing biopic for people who can’t stand motor racing biopics (like Ron Howard’s more successful Rush), this is awfully hung up on the often-sweaty guys and the much-fetishised cars – but, well, of course it is, and what did you expect? And at 152 minutes it’s way too damn long, meaning that by the end it won’t just be the vehicles that need a grease and oil change.

Reviewer Rating
6/10

Ford V Ferrari (M) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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