Matt Damon and Christian Bale are off the Races


Very rarely does a film come around that manages to be all things to all people. One that contains a solid story, balances the comedic and dramatic aspects of the narrative, features both loud action scenes as well as quiet and tender moments, and fits nicely into both the big blockbuster category as well as the potential award contender that would play nicely at an independent theater. Director James Mangold has found that in his latest feature, Ford v Ferrari.

The idea that Ford Motor Company would ever compete in the racing circuit alongside perennial powerhouse Ferrari was a laughable idea for the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. One might see it as a sort of punch-line to a bad joke. Ford was the boring, domestic car in the United States that the kids would not be driving.

These kids, “Boomers” (as in Baby Boomers, not the latest meme sensation) were the first generation following the war. They didn’t want to go with the safe, dependable automobile of their parent’s generation…they wanted speed. They wanted curb appeal. They wanted what Ferrari offered at the legendary 24 hours race of Le Mans.

Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is surrounded by a bunch of “yes” men, namely Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), but knows he needs to shake things up if he’s to stave off layoffs and save the company his grandfather built. Enter Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) with an idea to address the generational view plaguing Ford: buy Ferrari. When that doesn’t work, they decide to compete with them, giving us the true meaning of Ford v Ferrari. If you can’t join them…beat them.

To truly compete with Ferrari, Ford will need some of the best in the business, starting with Le Mans winner and celebrity Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), along with troubled mechanic and brilliant driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). What will unfold, however, is a compelling tale that weaves fast racing, strained relationships, corporate interference, politics, and intense competition.

Bale and Damon have great chemistry and make the story an enjoyable one, all the way through. Bale, having shed all of his Dick Cheney weight from Vice, plays the devoted family man, yet highly volatile Ken Miles. Ken is devoted to his wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe) who both understand the dangers inherent in racing.

The interplay between Bale and Damon, however, is the main draw to making this script work and they don’t disappoint. Their performance here makes me want to see something along the lines of Bourne v Batman in the future. This doesn’t literally mean those characters, but give us a pairing of Bale and Damon in an intense action film, or even a buddy cop story ala Lethal Weapon would work. Anything….just put them together.

Josh Lucas, who has previously played some very winsome characters, plays a perfect corporate stooge and foil to Damon’s good ‘ole boy Shelby. Lucas drips with scorn and is every bit the un-visionary needed to demonstrate the problem of management by committee that exists in a multinational corporation like Ford. He is the one you’ll love to hate. Jon Bernthal is a strong as Iacocca, as is Ray McKinnon, who plays Phil Remington. Both Bernthal and McKinnon get a chance to shine. The true moral center of it all, and what keeps it all grounded is Balfe and Jupe’s portrayals of Mollie and Peter Miles.

What will be obvious to the casual observer of this film is the attention to detail Ford v Ferrari gives to making the cars look fantastic. This is certainly true during the racing scenes, but equally so as the Ford team is working on each technical aspect of their car to make it a potential Le Mans champion. True car aficionados can wax poetic on the authenticity of the technical aspects being discussed in the film (or the lack of them), but the cars look and sound great on screen and the script does a good job of making the technical jargon going on in the scenes about the mechanics of it all accessible to the casual observer, especially as it existed for the time this story took place in.

James Mangold delivers one of his best films to date. This is a compliment, especially given the list of films he has directed from the highly satisfying Wolverine swan song Logan, the heavy dramas like Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted, the western 3:10 to Yuma, to the Johnny Cash bio pic Walk the Line. Ford v Ferrari is the culmination of all of his previous works, especially those containing drama and action, that handles the comedy and the levity well. Both the film, and Christian Bale, should garner Academy Award nominations. In short, Ford v Ferrari is one of the best racing films period. From the opening revving of the engines to the closing frame of epilogue, Ford v Ferrari is a high-octane drama, and a great ride. In short: Its a winner.