Ford v. Ferrari
When the film ended at the festival premiere of Ford v. Ferrari, director James Mangold and stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale took the stage and proudly declared that they didn’t know (or care) anything about racing. I thought, immediately, “No kidding.”
Their point, of course, was that the film is meant to be for everyone, not just “petrolheads.” It tells the story of how the Ford Motor Company, with the help of racing legend Caroll Shelby (Damon), put it to the gears of Enzo Ferrari’s team at a famous 24-hour race. The title in Europe is Le Mans ’66, but in North America there are fewer who know what the hell that race even is.
Weirdly, I’m not sure they’ll have any idea after seeing the film. In an attempt to make it a character piece that focuses on some of the larger-than-life personalities involved, we get a strange mix of period piece with a little bit of Fast & Furious injected. For a movie about endurance and the tenacity of drivers and their teams, a decidedly inappropriate amount of the running time is spend watching feet furiously pound at pedals while tachometers red-line, a needlessly simplistic metric for an event that’s more about survival than raw speed. A fundamentally team sport is here is expressed as the work of one or two people.
Really, the film should be called Shelby & Miles & Ford v. Ferrari, as the inter-company machinations are used to artificially create tension and heighten drama. Christian Bale’s take on Ken Miles is another excuse for the actor to chew on some dialogue, and while his wide-eyed enthusiasm works in brief moments, in the end it appears as flat as a spent tire. Matt Damon manages better to hit the mark as Shelby, a former racer still seeking out speed.
The farcical way Italians are represented in the film is the stuff of parody. (I was reminded of the buffoonery of the Pit Droids in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.) Rather than presenting either the Ford executive or the Italian car maker with any kind of dimensionality, they’re all cartoonish and simplistic.
I beg readers to check out Ron Howard’s Rush. That movie gets the racing right and has strong, deeply realized characters whose humanity outpaces the mechanical beasts they ride. In contrast, Ford v. Ferrari is all bombast and no spirit.
I wanted to love Ford v. Ferrari. Instead, my time was spent wondering how so much talent and potential could stall so badly and miss the core aspects of the story. What easily could have been the most thrilling and engaging film of the season crashes out at the finish line.