Wednesday, November 20, 2019


Rated:  PG-13

STARS:  Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Tracy Letts, Caitriona Balfe
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
GENRE: Action-Adventure/ Drama

It's The Little Old Lady From Pasadena! Go granny...go granny...go granny go! I thought I saw her in the audience on the edge of her seat, enjoying this one immensely. She's part of the target audience, along with teenage boys who love anything that is loud and fast (which explains some of the poor choices we make in choosing mates later on in life). For the rest of us good citizens who fall somewhere in the middle, driving defensively and observing the rules of the road, the testosterone fueled Ford v Ferrari is just a wild fantasy about what it would be like to be a high profile race car driver--where you're not even obligated to flash the middle finger while driving like a maniac, an everyday scenario out on the roadways of every city. A (mostly) true story of big rich boys and their toys. 

We all like an underdog, and this is your classic underdog tale, focusing on the 1966 Twenty-Four Hours Of Le Mans where Ford had employed all of its ingenuity and technical know how to develop a car that would challenge the long standing dominance of Ferrari. 

The principal players are Carrol Shelby (Matt Damon), the only American to that point to win at LeMans, now retired from active racing. And hotheaded Brit Ken Miles (Christian Bale), the best race driver around, but he comes with lots of baggage in the trunk. The familiar talented rebel versus the corporate suits scenario. Shelby becomes the intermediary between Miles and the corporate stiffs--headed by Henry Ford II, played with icy disdain by Tracy Letts-- in his efforts to get Miles accepted as Ford's lead driver at LeMans.

This is Christian Bale's movie. He nails his tough-as- nails character. On the other hand, Matt Damon is always going to have that baby-faced boy next door look even when he's ninety. It's a problem, because his mug doesn't show the depth of character required for playing some of these tough (physically or mentally) guy roles. 

Irish born former model Caitriona Balfe (with a name like that she's got to be good), who plays Ken Miles' wife, gets to shine in a scene where she is driving her husband in the family wagon and decides to show him a thing or two about taking chances at the wheel. (She's really pissed off!) Ironically, it's the most harrowing scene in the movie.

Ford v Ferrari is LOUD! The screech of the tires...the roar of the engines...the smell of the crowd (I saw the IMAX version). I sat there with my thumbs in my ears for 90 percent of the film, and it's two and a half hours long. But the adrenaline rush you'll get may be worth it. The racing scenes are among the most breathtaking that I've seen on film.  

Back in the day, there was always some semi-knowledgeable gear head who would stand there with a cig dangling from his lips who would tell you that Fords were crap. Ford v Ferrari seems to disprove that notion. At least for one magical moment in time.

Grade:  B +


This movie proves one thing to me: I can be wrong. Before seeing Ford v Ferrari, I had serious misgivings. How was I going to stand watching fast cars whir around hairpin turns for 2½ hours? Since I've always been partial to Christian Bale – except as Dick Cheney in Vice and Michael Burry in The Big Short – figured I could suffer through the racing bits.

That was my first wrong assumption: those 'racing bits' were mesmerizing! Even for an anti Nascar person like me (who assumes anyone who's into that sort of nonsense is brain dead), I was hooked. Every time that speedometer needle went into the red zone, my heart stopped. I don't know how director James Mangold filmed those racing sequences but they made me—and everybody else in the audience—feel like I was behind the wheel. Truly great cinematography!

My second wrong assumption was about Matt Damon who has never turned my crank. (I figure a motor metaphor is apt here.) His asymmetrical nose bothers me for some reason. But in this movie, I bought his character's love of racing, his commitment to the sport, and his total respect for Ken Miles. He seemed totally authentic. I would've preferred fewer yes men around Henry Ford II. And fewer shots of mechanics changing tires. But on the whole this is one helluva movie. (I was glad they showed the real people it was based on at the end.)

The fellow I went with is a fan of car racing. He felt there was too much personal stuff in the movie (i.e. the fight between the two main characters, the family subplot, etc.). For him, it took away from the action. For me, it added to it. But to paraphrase an old saying, "That's what makes car races!"

I don't think Bale or Damon will be nominated for Oscars but I do think Tracy Letts (who also wrote August: Osage County) could be.

Grade: B+